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Address Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America.

March 10, 1930

Mr. Chairman, officers of the Boy Scouts, and your guests:

We meet this evening under the cloud of deep sadness. Since many of you started your journey to Washington, the most beloved of Americans has passed into the Great Beyond. And in determining not to cancel this occasion your committee has acted in the spirit of William Howard Taft. A lifelong open heart and a devotion to boys, the first honorary president of the Boy Scouts, would, had he known of it, insisted that your work should go forward.

This occasion commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Boy Scouts, and it is indeed in keeping with the true tribute to his great spirit whose name graced your first anniversary.

For you are concerned in the special interest of boys, and I am a willing ally in that interest. And there is no feeling of exclusion of their sisters from our concern, but their similar problems are considered elsewhere in their parallel organization of the Girl Scouts.

Together with his sister, the boy is the most precious possession of the American home. I sometimes think that one of the sad things of life is that they will grow up. Literature and lore have established our boys in a varied relationship to life: as a growing animal of superlative promise, to be fed and watered and kept warm; as a periodic nuisance; as a joy forever; as the incarnation of destruction; as the father of the man; as the child of iniquity; as the problem of our times and, above all, as the hope of our Nation.

In any event, he is a complex of cells teeming with affection, filled with the curiosity as to every mortal thing, radiating sunlight to all the world, endowed with dynamic energy, and an impelling desire to take exercise on all occasions. He is a perpetual problem to his parents, and the wisdom in his upbringing consists more often in the determination of what to do with him next rather than in what to do with him when he goes out into the cold world.

The problem that we are considering here is not primarily a system of health or education or morals. It is what to do with him in his leisure time that will, of course, contribute to his health and his education and his morals, but in the main what will direct his interests to constructive joy instead of destructive glee and will yield him constructive joy for the balance of his life.

The Declaration of Independence is called upon as authority on most questions. It does give special attention to him and his sister in the reference to the inalienable right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At least in the practical workings of this Republic, we find it easier to realize these rights for boys than we do for grownup, taxpaying citizens.

As civilization has become more complex, and the number of human beings per acre has increased, and as we live more and more in towns and cities than in the countryside, and as the necessity of submitting to all forms of mechanical devices carries us further and further from the simpler and the more primitive forms of life, we are unconsciously decreasing the liberty for boys, diminishing the opportunities for the pursuit of happiness, because a boy is a primitive animal and takes to primitive life. His true life should be one of discovery, of adventure and great undertakings not to be found in either the squalor of tenement houses or in the drawing rooms of palatial apartments.

And the Boy Scout movement has opened for him the portals to adventure and constructive joy by reviving the lore of the frontier and the campfire, by establishing contacts with the birds and sometimes with the bees, by matching his patience to the deliberative character of fish, by efficient operation of swimming holes, by peeps into a thousand mysteries of the streams, and the trees and the stars. And, it is more than this. By the promotion of sense of sportsmanship, it builds character. Contest and competition with zeal but without unfair advantage and without bitterness, with restraint that remarks nothing of others which cannot be at once forgiven, with the willingness to subordinate one's self into teamwork for the common aim--that is sportsmanship.

There cannot be Boy Scouts without organization and leaders. And by leaders I include particularly those devoted men who as troop leaders become the inspiration and the friend of boys and upon whom rests the responsibility of actually administering constructive joy.

And through its organization our boys learn of discipline, they learn unity of effort, cooperation, and the democracy of play and work, and they learn the duties and satisfactions of service. All of these are the foundations of life, the basis of liberty and happiness, and the safeguards against destructive joy in the grownup life hereafter.

The priceless treasure of boyhood is his endless enthusiasm, his store of high idealism and his fragrant hope. His is the plastic period when indelible impressions must be made if we are to continue a successful democracy. We assure ourselves that the cure of illiteracy and the fundamentals of education are to be had in the three R's--readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic. To this we must add one more R and that is responsibility-responsibility to the community--if we are not to have illiteracy in government, we must do this. The conviction that every person in the Republic owes a service to the Republic; that the Republic rests solely upon the willingness of everyone born into it to bear his part of the duties and obligations of citizenship is as important as the ability to read and write--for that is the only patriotism in peace.

The idea that the Republic was created for the benefit of the individual is a mockery that must be eradicated at the first dawn of understanding. It is true that many of our schools have recognized this obligation. It is true that our teachers are guiding our children in the first steps of democracy, but I know of no agency that can be more powerful--and that is more powerful--in the support of this purpose than the Boy Scouts. If we look over the Republic today, we find many failures in citizenship--we find many betrayals by those who have been selected to leadership. I cannot conceive that these failures would take place if every citizen who went to the polls was a good "scout," that every official who was elected had ever been a real Boy Scout.

I give you a powerful statistic. There are about 1 million Boy Scouts in the United States. There is the raw material for 10 million more.

Note: The President spoke at 9 p.m. at a dinner in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Although he had canceled other engagements, the President attended this function because of William Howard Taft's many efforts on behalf of the Boy Scouts.

There were two press release versions of the address, one prior to the death of former Chief Justice Taft and another acknowledging his passing. Both versions appeared in various newspapers and differ only in that the first two paragraphs were inserted in the text printed above. The above text is a transcript taken from a sound recording of the address.

Herbert Hoover, Address Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/211623

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