Address at Pomona College in Claremont, California

May 08, 1903

Mr. President, Men and Women:

Even in a distinctly college and school gathering I know you will not grudge my saying my first word of greeting to those whom before all others we honor for what they did, to those because of whom we have a country or a President or any method of moving forward along the path of greatness—the men of the Grand Army. [Cheers and applause] I always envy you men of the Grand Army because you do not have to preach; you practiced. All we have got to do is to try to come up to the standard in peace which you set alike in war and in peace.

It is a very good combination to have the red with the white and blue. You can see over there that Harvard, which is my college, has the red and then comes the blue and white of yours. It did me good to get into a circle of the higher education, and listening to you I thought at once of football. My friends and fellow-citizens, it is such a pleasure to be in this college town today. It is so wonderful a thing to look at the country through which I have come, to realize that the site of this college but a few years ago was exactly as the rest of the plain was, to realize that all of the cultivation that I see, all of the agricultural work that has been done, that has so completely changed the face of the country, has been done within this brief space of time; to see the two things together and realize that you people of California are laying broad and deep by your industry and intelligence the foundation of material prosperity, and that upon that foundation of material prosperity you are erecting the superstructure of intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being, without which the foundation would never be anything but a base with no building upon it. [Applause] Of course, we have to have material prosperity as underlying our life. The first thing that the individual man has to do is to pull his own weight, to earn his own way, not to be a drag on the community. And the individual who wants to do a tremendous amount in life, but who will not start by earning his own way in life is not apt to be of much use in the world. He is akin to those admirable creatures who from '61 to '65 were willing to begin as brigadier generals. (Laughter and applause.) We must have first the desire to do well in the day of small things, the day through which all of us must pass, the day which lasts very long with most of us. We must have the desire and the power to do well industrially as a community, as individuals, Before we can do anything with the higher life, before we can have the higher thinking, there must be enough of material comfort to allow for at least plain living. We have got to have that first before we can do the high thinking; but if we are to count in the long run we must have built upon the material prosperity the power and desire to give to our lives other than a merely material side. It would be a poor thing for this State and for this country if, no matter how great our success in business, in agriculture, in all that pertains to the body, we had not provided for our children and those that come after us, to get what is good alike for the soul and the mind. The college and school, any institution of learning, has the two sides—I will say three sides, because now we all recognize the need of the healthy body. There is not much need of educating the body if one pursues certain occupations, but the minute that you come to people who pursue a sedentary life, there is a great need for educating the body. All of us recognize that, if we come to think of it. The man that is the ideal good citizen is the man who in the event of trial, in the event of a call from his country, can respond to that call as you responded in the great war. Then when that call is made you need not only fiery enthusiasm, but you need the body containing that fiery enthusiasm to be sufficiently hardy to bear it up, to bear it up on the march, to bear it up in the camp, to bear it into battle; you need a sound body, then you need a sound mind and a trained mind. Of course, there has got to be a capacity for intellectual development there to train, but it is a very great error, and an error into which in the past we as a nation have been prone to fall, to believe that you can trust to that intellectual capacity without training. You cannot. There are wholly exceptional people who will make the greatest success with insufficient training. We cannot judge by those wholly exceptional people. Every college should aim from its intellectual side, from the intellectual standpoint, to add to the sum of productive scholarship of the nation; and I trust that this college, that all colleges like this, in these great new States will add to the purely American type of American scholarship. By purely American I do not mean that you should self-consciously strive in your scholarship to have little points of unimportant difference. I mean that you should turn your attention to the thing that you find naturally at hand, or to which your minds naturally turn, and try in dealing with that to deal in so fresh a way that the net outcome shall be an addition to the world's stock of wisdom and knowledge. Every college should strive to bring to development among the students the capacity to do good original work. That is important. Even more important, however, than anything you can do for your intellect, or anything that can be done for the intellect in the schools, the children whom I see over there, is what can be done for that which counts for more than body, for more than mind, for character; that is what ultimately counts, [Applause] in shaping the fate of the nation, the destiny of the nation in great crises and in ordinary times. Brilliancy, genius, cleverness of all kinds, do not count for anything like as much as the sturdy traits that we group together under the name of character. [Applause] In the Civil War it was a good thing to be clever, to be capable, but it was an infinitely better thing to have in you the spirit that declined to accept defeat, and that drove you forward to the ultimate triumph. That was what counted. So in life what counts as the chief factor in the success of a man or a woman is character, and character iA partly inborn and partly developed; partly developed by the man's individual will, the woman's individual will, partly developed by the wise training of those above the young man or young woman, the boy or the girl, partly developed by the myriad associations of life, in just such an institution of learning as this. Character has two sides. It is composed of two sets of traits; in the first place the set of traits which we group together under such names as clean living, decency, morality, virtue, the desire and power to deal fairly each by his neighbor, each by his friends, each toward the State; that we have to have as fundamental. The abler, the more powerful any man is the worse he is if he has not got the root of righteousness in him. [Applause] In any regiment the man who has no loyalty to his fellows, no spirit of devotion to the flag, no desire to see the regiment stand high, to do his duty and see his fellows rise with him, that man, no matter how brave, or how able, is a curse to the regiment, and the sooner you can get him out the better. So in civil life, the abler a man is in business, in politics, in social leadership, the worse he is if he is a scoundrel, whether his scoundrelism takes the form of corruption in business, corruption in politics, or that most sinister of all forms, the effort to rise by inciting class hatred, by inciting lawlessness, by exciting the spirit of evil, the spirit of jealousy and envy as between man and man; and that spirit is equally base, whether it take the form of arrogance on the part of the well-to-do toward those less well-to-do, or of mean and base envy and jealousy on the part of those not well-to-do for those who are better off. [Applause] It is equally evil against the principles of our government in one case as in the other. And having those traits, we must have others in addition. The virtue that sits at home is of scant use in the world; the virtue that is very good in its own parlor and bemoans the wickedness of those outside does not do much for the benefit of mankind. In the war you had to have patriotism, but there was but little to be made of the man who was patriotic but who had a tendency to run away. In addition to decency, morality, virtue, clean living, you must have hardihood, resolution, courage, the power to do, the power to dare, the power to endure, and when you have that combination, then you get the proper type of American citizenship. I hail the chance of being met by such a gathering as this, because it is of good augury for the republic to see in this mighty Western State, this typically American State, the things of the body, and the things of the soul equally cared for. I greet you and I thank you. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at Pomona College in Claremont, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives