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- The Letters of Franklin K. Lane - 6/86 -

Commerce Commissioner, he disentangled a network of injustices in the relations between shippers and railroads, exposed rebating and demurrage evils; formulated new procedures in deflating, reorganizing, and zoning the business of all the express companies in the country; as Secretary of the Interior, he confirmed to the people a fuller use of Federal Lands, and National Park Reserves, laid the foundation for the development, on public domain, of water powers, and the leasing of Government oil lands, and built the Government railroad in Alaska; during the War, he contributed to the Council of National Defense his inexhaustible enthusiasm for cooperation, with definite plans for swift action, to focus National resources to meet war needs; and finally, his last carefully elaborated plan--killed by a partisan Congress--was to place returned soldiers upon the land under conditions of hopeful and decent independence. These were some of the "glories" of activity into which he poured the resources of his energy and imagination.

But no catalogue of the work or the salient mental characteristics of Franklin Lane gives a picture of the man, without taking into account his temperament, for that colored every hour of his life, and every act of his career. The things that he knew seized his imagination. Even when a middle-aged man he sang, like a troubadour, of the fertility of the soil; he was stirred by the virtue and energy of what he saw and touched; his heart leaped at the thought of the power of water ready to be unlocked for man's use--most happy in that the thing that was his he could love.

"To lose faith in the future of oil!" he cries, in the midst of a sober statistical letter, "Why! that is as unthinkable as to lose faith in your hands. Oil, coal, electricity, what are these but multiplied and more adaptable, super-serviceable hands? They may temporarily be unemployed, but the world can't go round without them." A man who feels poetry in petroleum suffers from no wistful "desire of the moth for the star." To his full sense of life the moth and the star are of one essential substance, parts of one glorious conquerable creation--and the moth just a fleck of star- dust, with silly wings.

In truth, both then and throughout most of the days of his life he was completely oriented in this world, at home here, with his strong feet planted upon reality. He liked so many homely things, that his friendly glance responded to common sunlight without astigmatism.

That his sympathies should have outrun his repugnances was of great practical moment in what he was able to achieve in a life shortened at both ends, for though he had to lose time by earning his own professional equipment, he lost little energy in friction. He wrote to a political aspirant for high office, in 1921, "Pick a few enemies and pick them with discretion. Chiefly be FOR things." To a man who was making a personal attack on an adversary of Lane's, while in 1914, as Secretary of the Interior, he was engrossed in establishing his "conservation-by-use" policy, in opposition to the older and narrower policy of conservation by withdrawal, Lane wrote, "I have never seen any good come by blurring an issue by personal conflict or antagonisms. ... I have no time to waste in fighting people ... to fight for a thing the best way is to show its advantages, and the need for it ... and my only solicitude is that the things I care for should not be held back by personal disputes." ...

This lesson he had learned more from his own temperament than from political expediency. It was bound up in his love of efficiency and also in his sense of humor. During this same hot conservation controversy he writes to an old friend, "I have no intention of saying anything in reply to Pinchot. He wrote me thirty pages to prove that I was a liar, and rather than read that again I will admit the fact."

This preoccupation with the main issue, in getting beneficial results was one thing that made him glad to acclaim and use the gifts of other men. Through his sympathies he could follow as well as lead, and he caught enthusiasms as well as kindled them. He believed in enthusiasm for itself, and because he saw in it one of the great potencies of life. In writing of D'Annunzio's placing Italy beside the Allies, he rejoices in the beautiful spectacle of the spirit of a whole people "blown into flame by a poet-patriot." But "the ideal," he urges, "must be translated into the possible. Man cannot live by bread alone--nor on manna."

His gay and challenging attitude toward life expressed only one mood, for he paid, as men must, for intense buoyancy of temper by black despairs. "Damn that Irish temperament, anyway!" he writes. "O God, that I had been made a stolid, phlegmatic, non-nervous, self-satisfied Britisher, instead of a wild cross between a crazy Irishman with dreams, desires, fancies--and a dour Scot with his conscience and his logical bitterness against himself--and his eternal drive!"

His exaggerations of hope and his moods of broken disappointment, his ever-springing faith in men, and in the possibility of just institutions, were more temperamental than logical. Moods of astonished grief, when men showed greed and instability, gave place to humorous and tolerant analysis of characters and events. Even his loyalty to his friends was subject to the slight magnetic deflections of a man of moods. He was true to them as the needle to the pole; and with just the same piquing oscillations, before the needle comes to rest at the inevitable North.

Because he had caught, in its capricious rhythms, the subtle movements of human intercourse he trusted himself to express to other men the natural man within his breast, without fear of misconstruction. He contrived to humanize, in parts, even his government reports. They brought him, year by year, touching letters of gratitude from weary political writers. The patient, logical Scot in him that said, "I am going to take this thing up bit by bit without trying to get a whole philosophy into the work," anchored him to the heaviest tasks as if he were a true- born plodder, while the "wild Irishman" with dreams and desires lighted the way with gleams of Will-o'-the-Wisp. The quicksilver in the veins of the patient Mercutio of railroad rates and demurrage charges lightened his work for himself and others. Just as in the five years when he served San Francisco, as City and County Attorney, he labored to such effect that not one of his hundreds of legal opinions was reversed by the Supreme Court of the State, so he toiled on these same Annual Reports, so immersed that, as he says, "I even have to take the blamed stuff to bed with me." Fourteen and sixteen hours at his official desk were not his longest hours, and sometimes he snatched a dinner of shredded biscuit from beside the day's accumulations of papers upon his heaped-up desk. He laid upon himself the burden of labor, examining and cross-examining men for hours upon a single point of essential fact--quick to detect fraud and intolerant of humbug,-- but infinitely patient with those who were merely dull, evading no drudgery, and, above all, never evading the dear pains of building-up and maintaining friendship.


MARCH, 1922





FRANKLIN K. LANE'S earliest political association, in California, after reaching manhood, was with John H. Wigmore. Wigmore had returned from Harvard, in 1883, with a plan, already matured, for Civic Reform. The Municipal Reform League, created by Wigmore, Lane, and several other young men, was to follow the general outline of boss control, by precinct and ward organization, the difference being that the League members were to hold no offices, enjoy no spoils, and work for clean city politics. Each member of the inner circle was to take over and make himself responsible for a definite city district, making a card index of the name of each voter, taking a real part in all caucus meetings--in saloon parlors or wherever they were held--and studying practical politics at first hand. "Blind Boss Buckley" was the Democratic dictator of San Francisco, and against his regime the initial efforts of the League were directed.

It was a giant's task, an impossible task, for a small group of newspaper writers and college undergraduates. The short career of the Municipal Reform League ended when Wigmore went East to study law, leaving Lane determined to increase his efficiency by earning his way through college and the Hastings Law School.

The first letters of this volume follow the theme of the political interests of the two young men.


Oakland, February 27, 1888

MY DEAR WIGMORE,--I am thinking of getting back in your part of the world myself, and this is what I especially wanted to write you about. I desire to see the world, to rub off some of my provincialisms, to broaden a little before I settle down to a prosaic existence. So, as I say, I want to live in Boston awhile and my only possibility of so doing is to get a position on some Boston paper, something that will afford me a living and allow some little time for social and literary life. However I don't care much what the billet is. I can bring letters of recommendation from all the good newspaper men in San Francisco, both as to my ability at editorial work (I have done considerable for the San Francisco NEWS LETTER and EXAMINER), and at all kinds of reportorial work. ...

I passed the law examination before the Supreme Court last month, so I am now a full-fledged--but not a flying, attorney. I have not determined definitely on going into law. ...

Politically speaking we Mugwumps out here are happy. ... California has been opposed to Cleveland on every one of his great proposals (civil service reform, silver question, tariff reform), and yet the Republicans must nominate a very strong man to get this State this year. The people admire old Grover's strength so

The Letters of Franklin K. Lane - 6/86

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