Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at George Rogers Clark Celebration, Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

November 16, 1934

Senator Barkley, Governor Laffoon, and, after what your Senior Senator has said, I think I can say, "My Fellow Pioneers":

We, pioneers of 1934, are come together today to honor the pioneers of a century and a half ago. On my journey hither I have been reading once more of those thrilling days which saw the first peopling of these fair lands beyond the mountains. It was the perfect moment which destiny offered to our forebears to create these United States.

It has seemed to me in reading history that Harrodsburg can lay claim to having been the scene of more historical first things than any spot I have ever known, and as you know, I am very much in favor of first things. It seems not enough that this delightful and historic place was the first permanent settlement well beyond the mountains; that there were here the earliest pioneer homes; that here came the first school teacher and the first doctor; that here was the first court of the West. That seems not enough; to this you must add many other firsts—the first corn raised in Kentucky, the first peach trees and apple trees planted, the first wheat fields, the first grist mill and, perhaps most important of all, the first spinning wheel.

That is why I am happy that, in addition to paying tribute to the memory of George Rogers Clark who led his men from here to his great invasion and preservation of the inland empire for the United States, you are also honoring the men and women who made his expedition possible and who followed him with the permanency of home building.

It has come to be a generally accepted rule of civilized Nations that mere discovery of new lands conveys no sovereignty; and, indeed, that mere conquest conveys but little better title. It is, after all, only the peopling of the wilderness which gives permanency to the form of an ordered society.

There is a very definite analogy between those days and our days. Upon the pioneers of these great stretches of the Central West were forced new activities because of the circumstances of their surroundings. They were compelled to hew out a new path —a path that was dependent not on the ax and the rifle alone, but upon their ability to govern themselves in new ways as well.

To most of the pioneers the necessities of the new life called for efforts and experiments to which they had not been accustomed in their earlier years in the more ordered civilization of the Atlantic seaboard. For them, survival itself demanded immediate and new action.

I have called those of us who are here today "pioneers of 1934." And I mean everything that that word "pioneer" implies. We, too, in these latter years throughout the length and breadth of our land have come to a realization of the pregnant fact that the accustomed order of our formerly established lives does not suffice to meet the perils and the problems which today we are compelled to face. Again, mere survival calls for a new pioneering on our part.

Some portion of the blood of the Colonists and the pioneers who worked their way, through generations, across the mountains and across the plains and again across the mountains until they came to the Pacific, is present in very large part in the veins of millions of our people today and, in even greater part, in the veins of those whom I see before me today. More than that, the example and the spirit of those earlier Americans are present in the mind and the heart of all our population.

The events we celebrate today were so vital in the extension of the new Nation, that it has been thought proper for Congress to commemorate them not only in the spirit of gratitude, but in the spirit of emulation, as an example to guide us in the conquest of new frontiers of the spirit, frontiers of the spirit that are neither physical nor geographical.

We are carrying on, we shall carry on the purposes of these men and women of Harrodsburg. They were hewing out a Commonwealth, and I like that word "Commonwealth."

All over this Nation we are hewing out a Commonwealth—a Commonwealth of the States which we hope will give to its people .more truly than any that has gone before, the fulfillment of security, of freedom, of opportunity and of happiness which America asks and which America is entitled to receive.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at George Rogers Clark Celebration, Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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