Address at the Banquet Tendered Him by the Union League Club of San Francisco, California

May 14, 1903

Mr. Toastmaster, and You, My Fellow-Members of the Union League Club: [Cheers and applause]

Let me say in all sincerity, Mr. Davis, that you have expressed far better than I could express (and I mean it) what I hold to be essential in American citizenship. [Applause] It was a privilege, sir, to be greeted by you as you have greeted me tonight. No one can too strongly insist upon the elementary fact that you cannot build the superstructure of public virtue save on private virtue. [Applause] The sum of the parts is the whole, and if we wish to make that whole, the State, decent, the representative and exponent and symbol of decency, it must be so made through the decency, public and private, of the average citizen. Mr. Davis was quite safe in saying he hoped I had enjoyed my stay in San Francisco. I should indeed be ungrateful, unappreciative, if I were not deeply touched and moved by the way in which the people of San Francisco have received me; and I have enjoyed to the full the two days and a half I have spent here. I have enjoyed it all and I have enjoyed no part more, General MacArthur, than my ride down the line, reviewing the troops with you. [Applause]

Californians are good Americans, and therefore it is not necessary to appeal to them on behalf of the army and the navy. ,.Applause.) I shall not detain you long this evening. I am promised by Colonel Pippy the chance, after my speech, of meeting and shaking hands with each of you, in the rooms of the Club. [Cheers and applause] I have just got two thoughts, not connected together, to which I want to give utterance tonight; one suggested by something that Mr. Davis said.

It is absolutely essential, if we are to have the proper standard of public life, that promise shall be square with performance. A lie is no more to be excused in politics than out of politics. (Cheers and applause, long continued.)

A promise is as binding on the stump as off the stump, and there are two facets to that crystal. In the first place, the man who makes a promise which he does not intend to keep and does not try to keep should rightly be adjudged to have forfeited in some degree what should be every man's most precious possession—his honor. [Applause] On the other hand, the public that exacts a promise which ought not to be kept, or which cannot be kept, is by just so much forfeiting its right to self-government. [Applause] There is no surer way of destroying the capacity for self-government in a people than to accustom that people to demanding the impossible or the improper from its public men. No man fit to be a public man will promise either the impossible or the improper; and if the demand is made that he shall do so it means putting a premium upon the unfit in public life. (Great applause.)

There is the same sound reason for distrusting the man who promises too much in public that there is for distrusting the man who promises too much in private business. If you meet a doctor who asserts that he as a specific remedy that will cure all the ills to which human flesh is heir, distrust him, He hasn?t got it. If you meet the business man who vociferates that he is always selling everything to you at a loss, and you continue to deal with him I am glad if you suffer for it. [Applause] Any man who promises as a result of legislation or administration the millennium is making a promise which he will find difficulty in keeping. Any man who asserts that by any law it will be possible, out of hand, to make all humanity good and wise, is again promising what he cannot perform. It is indispensable that we should have good laws and upright and honest and fearless administration of the laws; and we are not to be excused if we fail to hold our public men to a rigid accountability if they fail, in their turn, to see that we have proper legislation and proper administration. No public man worth his salt will be other than glad to be held accountable in that fashion. [Applause]

But important though the law is, though the administration of the law is, we can never escape having to face the fundamental truth that neither begins to be of the decisive importance that the average individual's character is. In the last analysis it is the man's own character which is and must ever be the determining factor in his success or failure in life [applause], and therefore in the last analysis it is the average character of the average citizenship of a nation which will in the long run determine whether that nation is to go up or down. [Applause]

The one indispensable thing for us to keep is a high standard of character for the average American citizen. [Applause]

Now for my unrelated second thought, and that is to reiterate something that I said this morning. I had the very great pleasure of dedicating the monument to Dewey's fleet for its victory at Manila. [Applause] We today were enjoying the aftermath of the triumph, due in part to what Dewey and his officers and men did on the first day of May, five years ago, and in even greater part to what those men did who in the past fifteen years had prepared for the winning of that triumph. [Applause] I have very great confidence in the capacity of our average soldier or sailor to turn out well, to do admirably when put to the supreme test. But the best man alive, if untrained, if unfitly armed, may be beaten by a poorer man who has had the training and the arms. [Applause] There is nothing more foolish, nothing less dignified than to indulge in boastfulness, in self-glorification as to the capacity of our soldiers and sailors while denying them the material which we are in honor bound to give them in order that their splendid natural qualities shall be fitly supplemented. [Cheers and applause] I have seen our people send American volunteers against a European soldiery, that , European soldiery armed with the finest type of modern rifle and ours with an old black-powder weapon, which was about as effective as a medieval cross bow; and those who failed to prepare the proper weapons for our people are not to be thanked, because by making drafts of an extraordinary kind upon the other good qualities of the American soldier, we escaped disaster. [Applause]

And who were those who failed to prepare? It is very easy and worse than foolish, it is wicked, to hold the people who at the moment are obliged to use those weapons responsible when the real responsibility lay with the representatives of our people and our people themselves for failing to make the preparation in advance. [Applause]

The business of finding a scapegoat to send loose into the wilderness is neither honorable nor dignified for a self-respecting people to be engaged in. [Applause] We commemorated today by a monument a great naval victory. We commemorated thereby the foresight, the prudence of the public men, of the great business men, of the shipwrights, the men who worked physically at the armor, the guns, the engines, the hulls, in getting the fleet ready; and, more than that, we commemorated the men who trained that fleet in readiness. Many an officer who was retired before the Spanish War came is entitled to his full share of the credit for what was done in that war, although he never saw it, because he had done his part in actual sea service in training the men to handle the mighty and delicate weapons of war intrusted to their care. [Applause]

Every public man who by his vote helped to make efficient that navy, every business man, every wage-worker, who did honest work on the ships, and every representative of the navy, officer or enlisted man, who in the years before the war faithfully did his duty aboard the ships in fitting crew and ship for the test of war, is entitled to a portion of the credit of the victory in Manila Bay. [Applause]

So it is with the army. I believe—no, I am not going to boast, and so I am going to say a little less than I think—I shall shift the form of my sentence and say that I have entire confidence in the average officer and average enlisted man in the army of the United States (cheers and applause) if only he is given any kind of a fair chance, but give him good weapons, and give him a chance to handle them and to handle himself so as to be prepared for war. The best man alive, if he is given no chance to practice, cannot be expected when first put to a test to show his abilities at their best. Give us a chance to handle our men in masses in time of peace. Remember that if you scatter the army in fifties or hundreds all over the country, you must expect as inevitable, and as not in the least blameworthy on the part of the army, trouble, when you come to gather them together as an army and to send them into a foreign country. [Applause]

Give our army a chance, or even half a chance, to practice in time of peace the performance of its proper function in time of war, and I can guarantee that the American people will ever in the future have the same cause that they have had in the past to be proud of the army and navy of the United States. (Cheers and applause, long continued.)

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at the Banquet Tendered Him by the Union League Club of San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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