The Unfinished Preface by Carleton G. Ferris

A Few Philosophical Comments of the "Good Gray Governor"


While there exists a comparatively comprehensive record of his lectures, political addresses and public documents, there is an all too meager transcript remaining of his spontaneous comments. Of those that survive, the following have been taken from his letters to me, all written during his term in the Senate. They are illustrative of his style, terse, sometimes blunt, but to the point.

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"I am older than you are. I decided long ago that we all have some of the weaknesses of a Hickman, a Loeb, a Leopold, a Judd, a Snyder. This is not nice reading, it contains an important truth."

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"Mr. Judson's death is a tremendous loss to the city of Big Rapids. He was a worth while citizen. His death simply reminds me that I shall follow suit at no distant date. I am not allowing myself to worry about that. We have all got to go sooner or later and I am not so sure that it makes a large amount of difference as to when we go. We are soon forgotten at best. It would be foolish, however, to live in order to be remembered. We would simply fool ourselves. I presume it is best that the old world should go on revolving even after we are dead because it is hard enough to live under the most favorable circumstances. Perhaps I ought to say, it is hard enough for the majority to live. There are some of the parasites who are coming along without very much work and probably getting considerable joy out of life, but I don't happen to belong to that class."

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"I do not wonder that men sometimes get utterly discouraged in trying to be decent. After all, I suppose the real satisfaction comes to the individual. Of course, I am obliged to live with myself, and of course I like good company. In order to have good company I must behave myself."

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"On Tuesday night Mary and I occupied a box at the Auditorium and listened to an address by Aimee Semple McPherson of Los Angeles, California. I spent a portion of my valuable time in studying Aimee as a human nature specimen. To be perfectly frank about the matter she was not excelled by P.T. Barnum. In fact she is a fitting successor to Barnum."

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"There is no place on earth like the United States Senate for the study of human nature and to no small extent brute nature."

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"You are all wrong about my birthday. In reality a birthday does not differ from any other day. I have sense enough to know that I am getting nearer and nearer to the jumping off place. I am trying to cultivate a philosophy that will enable me to jump off gracefully. There is always something for me to growl about, and I presume that holds true of most men. There have been a good many times in my life when I would have been glad to jump the job. At least I thought so. Perhaps I was not giving the matter very serious consideration."

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"The truth of the matter is property and more property is the slogan of the day. Money rules the politics of Illinois, money rules the politics of nearly every State in the Union, money rules the home, the Church, the School, and every other organization."

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"There are just any number of men wandering up and down the country sure they are born saviors, whereas they are born chumps. They cannot help it any more than a toadstool can help being a toadstool."

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NOTE: This advice was given to me with reference to a speaker I desired for a certain function.

"So far as I am personally concerned, I would rather that you would secure Dawes than any other man. He is not afraid of the Devil nor of Coolidge."

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"I would rather command my own self-respect than to be President of the United States, without it."

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"I think that a man is a fool for giving advice unless he is paid for it. Once in a while, if he is paid for his advice, the victim may profit thereby."

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"After you have lived fifty more years, you will discover that there is no human organization in the world that does not contain a sucker, a bull-head or a catfish. The only thing under God's Heaven that any manager can do is to make the best of the situation. You will keep right on learning. I think I learn more in a year now than I did when I was twenty-one, more than I did when I was thirty-one, and even more than I did when I was seventy-one."

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"Well, I am hoping that you will get some joy out of this season of the year. After all I feel a little like the life prisoner at Jackson Prison who wrote me this morning. In the last paragraph of a little Christmas sketch he had written he said 'We are devoutly thankful that Christmas comes but once a year.'" December 24, 1927.

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"I could write pages and pages along the same line as is given in your letter. Hypocrisy is a common characteristic of all men and women. Life seems to be a burlesque, an attempt to misrepresent almost everything. None of your statements as to the mediocrity of men, as to the cowardice of men, surprise me at all. I have been through it all and whatever position you occupy will furnish you a further number of illustrations of mediocrity and moral cowardice. Again and again I have asked myself, 'Is the game worth playing?' Whether it is or whether it is not, I have certain obligations and those obligations I must consider, consequently I have refrained from 'blowing out the light', a thing I would have done years ago had I followed my inclinations at times of mental depression. Even this would indicate inexcusable cowardice."

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"For God's sake, don't worry! There isn't a single reason in the world why you should worry. If you feel that you desire some other field, by all means go to it as soon as you can. I know what your trouble is so far as you have any. Your troubles and my troubles are identical. I know that you might be a better mixer. You have got to carry a large tank of 'soft soap' and use it freely even if you want to kick yourself after you have done so. Your job demands that kind of camouflage."

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"Will you tell me what line of human effort is free from objectionable features? Take my own business, for example: all my life I have been obliged to do a thousand and one things that I have positively loathed, and you might just as well make up your mind first as last that if you accomplish anything you will have the disagreeable to contend with. Gumshoe tactics and diplomacy have always played an important part in social and business relations."

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"Let me ask you once and for all to quit talking about regrets. Damn regrets. I quit talking about regrets many years ago. All any man can do is to use the best judgment he has and then work for the improvement of his judgment. I love teaching and yet there are times I get thoroughly disheartened, but I recover from my dumps and go on my way rejoicing. You will meet mediocre men as long as there are men to meet, and some of them will be coining more money than you are coining."

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Apropos of the dynamiting of a school house at Bath, Michigan.

"You refer to the calamity at Bath. Every newspaper announces that a manic committed the act. How easy it is to explain human conduct. All you have to do is to apply a number or a name. The truth of the matter is, the man who committed the crime was regarded as a good neighbor, as a helpful neighbor, as a real man. All that can be positively said is that he opposed the high school tariff. He was the type of man who could grow a feeling of hatred that would destroy the world if he could make the necessary contact. He was simply devilish, that's all."

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"For a long time I have tried to work for the under-dog, but very frequently the under-dog bites me when he ought to come around and lick my hand."

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