Address at San Bernardino, California

May 07, 1903

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Governor, and You, My Fellow-Citizens:

It gives me the utmost pleasure to be presented to those who are among the best on earth because they are Americans. [Applause] It is half a century since the early pioneers founded this place, and while time goes fast in America anywhere, it has gone fastest here on the Pacific Slope, and in the regions of the Rocky Mountains directly to the eastward. If you live in the presence of miracles you gradually get accustomed to them. [Applause] So it is difficult for any of us, and it is especially difficult for those who have themselves been doing the things, to realize the absolute wonder of the things that have been done. California and the region round about have in the past fifty or sixty years traversed the distance that separates the founders of the civilization of Mesopotamia and Egypt from those who enjoy the civilization of today. They have gone further than that. They have seen this country change from a wilderness into one of the most highly civilized regions of the world's surface. They have seen cities, farms, ranches, railroads grow up and transform the very face of nature. The changes have been so stupendous that in our eyes they have become commonplace. We fail to realize their immense, their tremendous importance. We fail entirely to realize what they mean. Only the older among you can remember the pioneer days, the early pioneer days, and yet today I have spoken to man after man yet in his prime who, when he first came to this country, warred against wild man and wild nature in the way in which that warfare was waged in the prehistoric days of the Old World. We have spanned in the single life—in less than the life of any man who reaches the age limit prescribed by the psalmist—in less than that time we have gone over the whole space from savagery to barbarism, to semi-civilization, to the civilization that stands two thousand years ahead of that of Rome and Greece in the days of their prime. [Applause]

The old pioneer days have gone, but if we are to prove ourselves worthy sons of our sires we cannot afford to let the old pioneer virtues lapse. There is just the same need now that there was in '49 for the qualities that marked a mighty and masterful people. East and West we now face substantially the same problems. No people can advance as far and as fast as we have advanced, no people can make such progress as we have made and expect to escape the penalties that go with such speed and progress. The growth and complexity of our civilization, the intensity of the movement of modern life, have meant that with the benefits have come certain disadvantages and certain perils. A great industrial civilization cannot be built up without a certain dislocation and certain disarrangement of the old conditions, and therefore the springing up of new problems. The problems are new, but the qualities needed to solve them are as old as history itself, and we shall solve them aright only on condition that we bring to the solution the same qualities of head and heart that have been brought to the solution of similar problems by every race that has ever conquered for itself a space in the annals of time. It is not possible for any man to say exactly what a given community of our people is to do with a given problem at the moment, unless he is thoroughly familiar with all the conditions attendant thereon, but he can lay down certain general rules of conduct with the absolute certainty that our people have to proceed in accordance with them, if they are to do aright their work in the State and the nation.

Wherever I have been in the West I see men who wear the button which shows that in the times that tried men's souls they proved their truth by their endeavor; that they belonged to those who in the years from '6i to '65 dared all to see that the nation did not flinch from its destiny; and great though the praise is that is due to them, an even greater praise in my mind belongs to the women of their generation who sent them out to battle, who stayed at home with the breadwinner absent, who had to suffer not only fear of the fate that might befall father, husband, son, lover or brother, but who had to get on as best they could in their own household without the help of the arm on which they had been accustomed to rely. [Applause] You men and women of that time proved yourselves worthy to be freemen by displaying the old heroic qualities that had marked masterful men and womanly women from the days when the world began. You won because you showed the spirit that the men of '76 showed under Washington, Wayne and Greene. You won by showing the traits of character that must be shown in any crisis by men who are to meet that crisis—perfectly ordinary traits.

You do not win in a big fight by any patent device. There is not any way by which you can turn your hand and conquer in a time of great trial. You have got to conquer as your father and grandfather conquered before you. You have got to conquer as strong men have conquered in every struggle of history, and draw on whatever fund of courage, of resolution, of hardihood, of iron will that you have at your command, and you can conquer only if you draw on just those qualities. Another thing which you will remember very well, from '6i to '65, what my comrades here, the men who went into the great war and the men who went into the Spanish War or went to the Philippines will remember also, that there was a certain proportion of men who joined your ranks who for one reason or another fell by the wayside. There were different reasons—some for whom one simply felt an entirely respectful pity, who lacked the stamina to be able to stand the hard work, and it was mighty hard work. In the lesser war there was trouble that there was not in the big war, for there was not enough to go around. [Applause] Among others the man would come around who wanted to be a hero right off, but did not want to do the other work of the moment. I recollect perfectly in my regiment, a young fellow joined, and on the second day he came to me and said: "Colonel, I came down here to fight for my country, and they are treating me like a serf, and making me dig kitchen sinks." His Captain, who was a large man from New Mexico, explained to him that he would go right on and dig kitchen sinks; that that was what his business was at the moment, and that if he dug them well we would see to the hero business later. The man who did well in the army in those days was, as a rule, the man who did not wait to do well until something big occurred, but who did his duty just as his duty came, during the long marches, during the weary months of waiting in camp, did his duty just exactly as in the battle. He was the man on whom you relied, whom you trusted, whom you wanted to have with you in your troop, as your bunky, whatever it was, he was the man you wanted around. It is just exactly the same with citizenship. It was just exactly the same in the pioneer days. The pioneers, men and women, faced much such difficulty as the men of the Grand Army, and for you, the men of that generation, and your wives, there was the same hardship, the same endurance of grinding toil, the same years of effort that too often seemed fruitless, the same iron will, and the same ultimate triumph, and if we are to succeed we must show the same qualities that the men of the Grand Army showed, that the pioneers showed, that all men and all women have showed who were fit to be fathers and mothers in a vigorous State. I would plead with my countrymen to show not any special brilliancy, or special genius, but the ordinary humdrum commonplace qualities which in the aggregate spell success for the nation, and spell success for the individual. Remember that the chance to do the great heroic work may or may -not come. If it does not come, then all that there can be to our credit is the faithful performance of every-day duty. That is all that most of us throughout our lives have the chance to do, and it is enough, because it is the beginning to do, because it means most for the nation when done, and if the time for the showing of heroism does come you may guarantee that those who show it are most likely to be the people who have done their duty in average times as the occasion for doing the duty arose.

My friends, I am very glad to see you. I am very glad to be in California. Today is the first time I ever was in your wonderful and beautiful State. I do not know if this is a fair sample, but if it is California is certainly to be congratulated all through. [Applause] In saying good-by I wish to express the pleasure it has given me to see you. I believe in the State; I believe in what the State produces, but I believe most of all in the men and women of the State. It is a good thing to have your soil and your climate, your great industrial possibilities; it is a better thing to have the type of citizenship which California has produced. [Applause] I congratulate you; I congratulate the American people, of whom you are part. I wish you well with all my heart, and I believe that your future will be infinitely greater even than the mighty present, even than your past has warranted us in believing. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at San Bernardino, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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