Address at Mechanics' Pavilion in San Francisco, California

May 13, 1903

Mr. Chairman, and You, Men and Women of San Francisco, of California:

I should be indeed unappreciative if I were not deeply stirred by the greeting I have received in your State, in your city, and especially by this audience tonight. [Applause] It has been a great pleasure to come into wonderful and beautiful California, to see the State itself, but most of all the citizens of the State. Today I have been especially pleased and struck by the greeting of the children. [Applause] You know I believe in children; and I was not only glad to see the kind of children you had, but also how many you had. [Laughter] And above all, I have been pleased this evening driving through the streets to be greeted by the children of the night schools and their teachers.

I have in New York a very dear friend named Jacob Riis [applause]—(let any one that will applaud him, for they ought to),— who has written and taught by precept and practice that each one of us ought to be his brother's keeper when the chance arises, and who has devoted himself particularly to the welfare of the children, and especially to those children to whom life does not come Woo easily and to those who have to strive for their education at the same time that they are earning their living, and to whom the education is bound to be of ten-fold more value because it is acquired as things worth acquiring generally must be acquired—by effort and self-sacrifice. [Applause]

I have come from the Atlantic across this continent to the Pacific. I have greeted many audiences. I see a little diversity, but, oh my fellow-citizens, what strikes me most and pleases me most is the fundamental unity, is the fact that wherever I go I speak to an audience of Americans, be they East or be they West. [Cheers and applause] And I make the same appeal with the same confidence here beside the Golden Gate that I should make by the Great Lakes or in the upper Mississippi Valley or on the Atlantic Ocean. This is a government of freemen, who have achieved liberty under the law, who have, by force of arms as well as by legislation, established once for all as the fundamental principle of our government that there shall not in this country be license; that there shall not be in this country liberty to oppress without the law; that liberty and freedom shall come under and in pursuance of the law, of the law that is no respecter of persons, under a government that is a government neither for the rich man as such nor for the poor man as such, but for every man, rich or poor, if he is a decent man and does his duty to the State. [Cheers and applause]

Before I came to the Pacific Slope I was an expansionist [applause], and after having been here I fail to understand how any man convinced of his country's greatness and glad that his country should challenge with proud confidence its mighty future, can be anything but an expansionist. [Applause] In the century that is opening, the commerce and the command of the Pacific will be factors of incalculable moment in the world's history.

The seat of power ever shifts from land to land, from sea to sea. The earliest civilizations, those seated beside the Nile and in Mesopotamia had little to do with sea traffic. But with the rise of those people who went down to the sea in ships, with the rise of the Phoenicians, the men of Tyre and Sidon, the Mediterranean became the central sea on whose borders lay the great wealthy and cultivated powers of antiquity. The war navies and the merchant marines of Carthage, Greece and Rome strove thereon for military and industrial supremacy. Its control was the prerequisite to greatness, and the Roman became lord of the Western world only when his fleet rode unchallenged from the Aegean to the Pillars of Hercules. Then Rome fell. But for centuries thereafter the wealth and the culture of Europe were centered on its southern shores, and the control of the Mediterranean was vital in favoring or checking their growth. It was at this time that Venice and Genoa flourished in their grandeur and their might.

But gradually the nations of the North grew beyond barbarism, and developed fleets and commerce of their own. The North Sea, the Baltic, the Bay of Biscay, saw trading cities rise to become independent or else to become props of mighty civilized nations. The seafaring merchants ventured with ever greater boldness into the Atlantic. The cities of the Netherlands, the ports of the Hansa, grew and flourished as once the Italian cities had grown. Holland and England, Spain, Portugal and France sent forth mercantile adventurers to strive for fame and profit on the high seas. The Cape of Good Hope was doubled, America was discovered, and the Atlantic Ocean became to the greater modern world what the Mediterranean had been to the lesser world of antiquity.

Now, men and women of California, in our own day, the greatest of all the oceans, of all the seas, and the last to be used on a large scale by civilized man bids fair to become in its turn the first in point of importance. [Applause] The empire that shifted from the Mediterranean will in the lifetime of those now children bid fair to shift once more westward to the Pacific. When the 19th century opened the lonely keels of a few whale ships, a few merchantmen, had begun to furrow the vast expanse of the Pacific; but as a whole its islands and its shores were not materially changed from what they had been in the long past ages when the Phoenician galleys traded in the purple of Tyre, the ivory of Lybia, the treasures of Cyprus. The junks of the Orient still crept between China and Japan and Farther India, and from the woody wilderness which shrouded the western shores of our own continent the red lords of the land looked forth upon a waste of waters which only their own canoes traversed. That was but a century ago; and now, at the opening of the loth century, the change is so vast that it is well-nigh impossible for us to estimate its importance. In the South Seas the great commonwealth of Australia has sprung into being. Japan, shaking off the lethargy of centuries, has taken her rank among civilized, modern powers. European nations have seated themselves along the eastern coast of Asia, while China by her misfortunes has given us an object-lesson in the utter folly of attempting to exist as a nation at all, if at the same time both rich and defenseless.

Meanwhile our own mighty republic has stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and now in California, Oregon, and Washington, in Alaska, Hawaii and the Philippines, holds an extent of coast line which makes it of necessity a power of the first class in the Pacific. The extension in the area of our domain has been immense, the extension in the area of our influence even greater. America's geographical position on the Pacific is such as to insure our peaceful domination of its waters in the future if only we grasp with sufficient resolution the advantages of that position. We are taking long strides in that direction; witness the cables we are laying down, the steamship lines we are starting—some of them already containing steamships larger than any freight carriers that have previously existed. We have taken the first steps toward digging an Isthmian Canal, to be under our own control [applause], a canal which will make our Atlantic and Pacific coast lines in effect continuous, which will be of incalculable benefit to our mercantile navy, and above all to our military navy in the event of war.

The inevitable march of events gave us the control of the Philippine Islands at a time so opportune that it may without irreverence be called Providential. Unless we show ourselves weak, unless we show ourselves degenerate sons of the sires from whose loins we sprang, we must go on with the work we have undertaken. [Applause] I most earnestly hope that this work will ever be of a peaceful character. We infinitely desire peace, and the surest way of obtaining it is to show that we are not afraid of war. We should deal in a spirit of justice and fairness with weaker nations, and we should show to the strongest that we are able to maintain our rights. Such showing cannot be made by bluster; for bluster merely invites contempt, Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready. If we do these things we can count on the peace that comes to the just man armed, to the just man who neither fears nor inflicts wrong. We must keep on building and maintaining a thoroughly efficient navy, with plenty of the best and most formidable ships, with an ample supply of officers and men, and with those officers and men trained in the most efficient fashion to perform their duties. Only thus can we assure our position in the world at large. It behooves all men of lofty soul fit and proud to belong to a mighty nation to see to it that we keep our position in the world; for our proper place is with the great expanding peoples, with the peoples that dare to be great, that accept with confidence a place of leadership in the world. All our ' people should take that position, but especially you of California, you of the Pacific Slope, for much of our expansion must go through the Golden Gate. [Applause] And inevitably you who are seated by the Pacific must take the lead in and must profit by the growth of American influence along the coasts and among the islands of that mighty ocean, where East and West finally become one.

My countrymen, I believe in you with all my heart. I am proud that it has been granted to me to be a citizen in a nation of such glorious opportunities, with the wisdom, the hardihood, and the courage to take advantage of them. We have no choice, we people of the United States, as to whether or not we shall play a great part in the world. That has been determined for us by fate, by the march of events. We have to play that part. All that we can decide is whether we shall play it well or ill. [Applause] We are not and cannot and never will be one of those nations that can progress from century to century doing little and suffering little, standing aside from the great world currents. We must either succeed greatly or fail greatly. The citizen of a small nation may keep his self-respect if that nation plays but a small part in the world, because it is physically impossible for the nation to do otherwise; but the citizen of a great nation which plays a small part should hang his head with shame. [Cheers and applause]

I do not preach to this country the life of ease, any more than I should preach it to any man worth his salt living in the country. The citizen that counts, the man that counts in our life is the man who endeavors not to shirk difficulties but to meet and overcome them [applause]; is the man who endeavors not to lead his life in the world's soft places, not to walk easily and take his comfort; but the man who goes out to tread the rugged ways that lead to honor and success, the ways the treading of which means good work worthily done. [Applause]

What father or what mother here, if capable of taking the right view, does not wish to see his or her children grow up trained, not to flinch but to overcome, trained not to avoid whatever is hard and rough and difficult, but to go down into the hurly burly of actual life and win glory in the arena, heedless of the dust and the sweat and blood of the contest.

You men of the West, the older among you, came here, hewed out your own fates for yourselves. The younger among you are the heirs of the men who did this, and you cannot, unless you are false to your blood, desire to see the nation, which is but the aggregate of the individuals act otherwise than in the way which you esteem as honorable for the individual.

Our place as a nation is and must be with the nations that have left indelibly their impress on the centuries. Men will tell you that the great expanding nations of antiquity have passed away. So they have; and so have all others. Those that did not expand passed away and left not so much as a memory behind them. The Roman expanded, the Roman passed away, but the Roman has left the print of his law, of his language, of his masterful ability in administration, deep in the world's history, deeply imprinted in the character of the races that came after him. I ask that this people rise level to the greatness of its opportunities, I do not ask that it seek for the easiest path. In 1861 the easiest thing for each man to do was to stay at home, and let the Union be broken up. That was the easy thing to do, and thank Heaven for the iron in the blood of our fathers, thank Heaven for the souls within them, that made the easy thing impossible to do. [Applause]

Mighty Lincoln, sad, patient Lincoln, called, and the young men of the country sprang to arms and answered his call, and the nation, the Republic, the peaceful Republic of the West, until then the incarnate genius of peace, sprang to her feet with sword and shield, a helmeted queen among nations. Our people went to the war. The women cheered them on, the women whose task was harder than the task of the husbands, of the lovers, of the fathers, of the sons they sent to battle. For four years they fought until the ultimate triumph came to crown the effort, the long weary months of waiting and disappointment, the bitter hours of failure, the anguish of defeat—the triumphs came, and those men of '61, the men who wore the blue, left us a reunited country and the right of brotherhood with the sons of the men who wore the gray. [Cheers and applause] So that now every American can glory alike in the valiant deeds done by all Americans, Northern or Southern, who in that great hour of strife did their duty as the light was given them severally to see that duty. [Applause]

If our fathers had preferred ease to effort, if they had been content to say: "Go in peace; we would prefer that the Union were kept, but we are not willing to pay the price in blood and effort of keeping it;" if they had done that there is not a man or woman in this hall who would now walk with head erect, who would now have the right to feel as we have the right to feel that we challenge equality with the citizens of the proudest country that the world has yet seen. I ask that this generation and future generations strive in the spirit of those who strove to found the Republic, of those who strove to save and perpetuate it. I ask that this nation shape its policy in a spirit of justice toward all and a spirit of resolute endeavor to accept each duty as the duty comes, and to rest ill-content until that duty is done. I ask that we meet the many problems with which we are confronted from without and from within, not in the spirit that seeks to purchase present peace by the certainty of future disaster, but with a wise, a fearless, and a resolute desire to make of this nation in the end, as the centuries go by, the example for all the nations of the earth, to make of it a nation in which we shall see the spirit of peace and of justice incarnate, but in which also we shall see incarnate the spirit of courage, of hardihood, the spirit which while refusing to wrong the weak is incapable of flinching from any fear of the strong. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at Mechanics' Pavilion in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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