Declined to Answer

February 7, 1908


During his speech at Cooper Union in New York, Secretary of War William H. Taft “respectfully declines” answering a question regarding the Brownsville affray.


Secretary of War William H. Taft spoke at Cooper Union, New York Friday January 10, 1908 and invited questions for anyone who cared to send them. Any person in the audience after the address had been concluded was permitted to ask the speaker any question germane to the subject under discussion. Secretary Taft declined to answer it. Here is a copy of that part of the stenographic report: Secretary Taft-- I understand that when you permit one to come before you and discuss a subject that the questions that are to be addressed to him are upon that subject. The Chairman--Yes; they are pertinent to that subject. Secretary Taft--That is one of the rules of the game? The Chairman--That is one of the rules of the game. Secretary Taft--Now, I only want to illustrate what I think to be one hardly according to the rules of the game. (Reading) “Mr. Chairman: In the name of 30,00 Negro voters of this State I ask you, Mr. Secretary, if you endorse the President’s position in his wholesale discharge of companies C and D in the Brownsville affray, and, if so, are you willing as a candidate for the presidency and as a lawyer to stake your political and legal fortunes upon the accuracy of that position.” “Now, this is a speech that I delivered in Ohio in August I have given a reason why I don’t think it proper for me to discuss a matter which came before the President and before me officially, and which is now pending before the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. The Committee has not voted, the evidence has not all been taken, there has been no discussion in the Senate. The question could not properly arise either for the President to act upon or for me to act upon until that Committee has finished its labors and made its report, and such action as the Senate sees fit shall be taken. Therefore, I must respectfully decline to answer that question. (Applause). I answer it with all respect, but I do not think it is germane to the subject-matter.” The Chairman-- It is not. Secretary Taft--And there is another reason I have explained why I ought not to take it up. If any colored man in the United States can find any consolation in the above utterances, we should like very much to have him render a reason for the faith that is in him. We are fair enough to say that Secretary Taft is not a political devil with horns and that he may not be an inimical to our rights and our interests as he is painted to be by some people, but he is far from the standard set for men of his character and attainments and he has too much of the politician in his anatomy to occupy the pedestal of a statesman.
Hon. William J. Bryan has endorsed many of the policies and platitudes of Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, but we have not as yet seen where he has ever endorsed his action in punishing 167 loyal soldiers of color by driving them from the army upon evidence which was not sufficient to justify the conviction of a Negro with in the lawless confines of Texas. Secretary Taft need not answer the question, but somebody will answer it before next November or “there’ll be news to carry to Hannah” when the ballots are counted in the doubtful states., Colored folks are in the humor to vote for the Devil himself, rather than for his lieutenant in this campaign.
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Emma Alvarez


“Declined to Answer,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed March 22, 2023,