Address at a Banquet Tendered by the Citizens of San Francisco, California at the Palace Hotel

May 12, 1903

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Governor, and You, My Hosts:

Let me thank you with all my heart for the more than kindness, the more than courtesy and cordiality, with which I have been treated in California from the hour when I first set foot within her borders. Governor, the message that I shall send back is: I have come to California; I have seen; and I have been conquered by California's citizens and California's Governor.

And, Mr. Mayor, as you said in your speech, the thing that has struck me most coming here, coming from the East through the West, west of the West to California—the thing that has struck me most is that though I have never been in your great and beautiful State before, though I have known your citizens only as I met them elsewhere, I am absolutely at home, for I am speaking as one American to his fellow-Americans. (Cries of "Good!" Cheers and applause.) I have been pleased with the diversity of the country, but, oh my fellow-countrymen, I have been pleased infinitely more with the unity of our country. [Applause] While I am not by inheritance a Puritan, I have acquired certain traits one of which is an uneasy feeling which I think a large number of Americans share, that when we are having a good time, it is not quite right. (Laughter and applause.) And during the week that I have been in California I have enjoyed myself so much that I have had a slight feeling that maybe I was not quite doing my duty. [Applause] But I cannot say that I am penitent about it.

And now, my fellow-citizens, let me try to express, for I can only try, I cannot fully express, how I have enjoyed and appreciated my visit to California, my sojourn among you. It has been a genuine revelation, for while I knew of much that I should see, I could not realize it until I had seen it. I think I was a fairly good American a week ago when I came into your State, but I am a better one now [applause], and even more confident in the nation's future and more resolute to do whatever in my power lies to bring about that future. [Applause] I thank you; I thank the citizens of the Golden State for their greeting. I rejoice with you in the wonderful prosperity of California, and that prosperity is but part of the prosperity of the whole nation. Speaking broadly, prosperity must of necessity come to all of us or to none of us. There are sporadic exceptions. Of course we all of us know people who cannot be made prosperous by any season of good fortune. There will be exceptions, individual and local, but the law of brotherhood is the universal law, the law upon which the well-being of this nation is based, and taken as a whole we can state with absolute certainty that if good times come they will come more or less to all sections and all classes, and that if hard times come, while they may bear unequally upon us, yet more or less they bear upon each State, upon each set of individuals. For weal or for woe, we of this country are indissolubly bound together. (Cries of "Good!" Cheers and applause.) In the long run we shall go up or go down accordingly as the whole nation goes up or goes down. Therefore it is that no more wicked deed can be done than the deed of him who would seek to make any of our people believe that they can rise by trampling down their fellows. [Cheers and applause] And no more wicked appeal can be made than the appeal to rancor, to hatred, to jealousy, whether made in the name of a section or in the name of a class. [Applause]

The Golden State has a future of even brighter promise than most of her older sisters, and yet the future is bright for all of us. California, still in her youth, can look forward to such growth as only a few of her sisters can share, yet there are immense possibilities of growth for all our States from one end of the Union to the other. In this growth, in keeping and increasing our prosperity, the most important factor must be the character of our citizenship. Nothing can take the place of the average quality of energy, thrift, business enterprise and sanity in our community as a whole. Unless the average individual in our nation has to a high degree the qualities that command success we cannot expect to deserve it or to keep what it brings. [Applause] Our future is in my opinion well assured from the very fact that there is this high degree of character in the average American citizen. [Applause] I cannot over-emphasize the fact that law and the administration of the law can merely supplement and help to give full play to the forces that make the individual man a factor of usefulness in the community. If the individual citizen has not got the right stuff in him you cannot get it out of him, because it is not there to get out. [Applause] No law that the wit of man has ever devised ever has made or ever will make the fool wise, the coward brave, or the weakling strong. [Cheers and applause] When we get down to those places where you see humanity in the raw then it is the native strength of the man that will count more than aught else; and we cannot afford in this community ever to weaken the spirit of individual initiative, ever to make any man believe that if he cannot walk himself somehow the law can carry him. It cannot. [Applause] There is but one real way in which any man can be helped, and that is by teaching him to help himself. [Applause]

Remember that the factor of the sum of the individual's own qualities comes first. With that admitted, with that kept in mind, it is then true that something, and oftentimes a good deal, can be done by wise legislation and by upright, honest and fearless enforcement of the laws, an enforcement of the laws which must and shall know no respect of persons—[applause] laws local, laws State, laws national. We have attained our present position of economic well-being, of economic leadership in the international business world under a tariff policy in which I think our people as a whole have acquiesced as essentially wise alike from the standpoint of the manufacturer, the merchant, the fanner, and the wageworker. Doubtless as our needs shift it will be necessary to reapply in its details this system so as to meet those shifting needs; but it would certainly seem from the standpoint of our business interests—and such a question, primarily a business question, should be approached only from the standpoint of our business interests—it would seem most unwise to abandon the general policy of the system under which our success has been so signal.

In financial matters we are to be congratulated upon having definitely determined that our currency system must rest upon a gold basis [applause], for to follow any other course would have meant disaster so widespread that it would be difficult to overestimate it. There is, however, unquestionably need of enacting further financial legislation so as to provide for greater elasticity in our currency system. [Applause] At present there are certain seasons during which the rigidity of this system causes a stringency most unfortunate in its effects. The last Congress in its wisdom took up and disposed of various matters of vital moment; such as those dealing with the regulation and supervision of the great corporations commonly known as trusts, with securing in effective fashion the abolition of rebates by transportation companies, that is with securing fair play as between the big man and the little man in getting their products to market [applause], and in initiating the national system of irrigation. So in my judgment the Congress that is to assemble next fall should take up and dispose of the pressing questions relating to banking and currency. I believe that such action will be taken, and I am sure that it ought to be taken. [Applause] It is needed in the interest of the business world and it is needed even more in the interest in the world of producers, of earth tillers, of men who make their living by the products of the farm and ranch. Such action would supplement in fitting style the excellent work that has already been done in recent years in regard to our monetary system. There always will be need of wise legislation and an even greater need of the wisdom which recognizes when the wisest policy is to have no legislation; and it is of prime importance to us to remember that we cannot afford to condone in public life any deviation from the principles of common sense and of rugged honesty which we deem essential in private and business life. [Applause]

There is no royal road to good government. Good government comes to the nation the bulk of whose people show in their relations to that government the humdrum, ordinary, work-a-day virtues, and it comes and can come upon no other condition. We need the best intellectual skill, we need the most thorough training in public life, but such skill and such training can be only supplementary to and in some sense substitutes for the fundamental virtues that have marked every great and prosperous nation since the dim years when history dawned, the fundamental virtues of decency, honesty, courage, hardihood; the spirit of fair dealing as between man and man, the spirit that dares, that foresees, that endures, that triumphs; and added to all those qualities, the saving grace of common sense. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at a Banquet Tendered by the Citizens of San Francisco, California at the Palace Hotel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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