Address at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, California

May 19, 1903

Mr. Mayor, and You, My Fellow-Citizens:

It is a great pleasure to have the chance of meeting you here in the capital city of your wonderful State. [Applause] In greeting all of you I know that the others will not grudge my saying a special word of acknowledgment to those whose mettle rang true on war's red touchstone, to the men to whom we owe it that we have tonight one country or that there is a President to speak to you—[applause]—the men of the Grand Army, the veterans of the great war, I wish also to express at this time my acknowledgments to my escort, the National Guard, many of them my comrades in the lesser war of '98. (Laughter and applause.) You see, in '98 we had a difficulty from which you were wholly free in '61, because with us there was not enough war to go around. [Applause]

I have enjoyed to the full my visit to California. I have come across the continent from the East to the West, and now beyond the West to California, for California stands by itself. [Applause] I have enjoyed every hour of my stay here. I have just come from a four days' rest in the Yosemite, and I wish to say one word to you here in the capital city of California about certain of your great natural resources, your forests and the water supply coming from the streams that find their sources among the forests of the mountains.

California possesses a wonderful climate, a wonderful soil, and throughout the portions that I have visited it is literally astounding to see how the land yields a hundred and a thousand fold when water is put upon it. And where it is possible to irrigate the land the result is, of course, far better than having to depend upon rainfall anywhere, but no small part of the prosperity of California in the hotter and drier agricultural regions depends upon the preservation of her water supply; and the water supply cannot be preserved unless the forests are preserved. [Applause] As regards some of the trees, I want them preserved because they are the only things of their kind in the world. Lying out at night under those giant Sequoias was lying in a temple built by no hand of man, a temple grander than any human architect could by any possibility build, and I hope for the preservation of the groves of giant trees simply because it would be a shame to our civilization to let them disappear. They are monuments in themselves, I ask for the preservation of the other forests on grounds of wise and far-sighted economic policy. I do not ask that lumbering be stopped at all. On the contrary, I ask that the forests be kept for use in lumbering, only that they be so used that not only shall we here, this generation, get the benefit for the next few years, but that our children and our children's children shall get the benefit. In California I am impressed by how great the State is, but I am even more impressed by the immensely greater greatness that lies in the future, and I ask that your marvelous natural resources be handed on unimpaired to your posterity. [Applause] We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages. We stand on the threshold of a new century. We look into the dim years that rise before us, knowing that if we are true that the generations that succeed us here shall fall heir to a heritage such as has never been known before. I ask that we keep in mind not only our own interests, but the interests of our children. Any generation fit to do its work must work for the future, for the people of the future, as well as for itself. You, men of the Civil War, fought from '61 to '65 for the Union of that day; yes, and for the Union that was to stand while nations stand in the hereafter. [Applause] You fought to make the flag that had been rent asunder once more whole and without a seam and to float over you and to float over all who come after you likewise. You fought for the future; you fought for the looming greatness of the republic in the centuries that were to come, and now I ask that we, in fulfilling the duties of citizenship, keep our gaze fixed likewise on the days that are to come after us. You are building here this great State within whose bounds lies an area as great as an Old World empire, a State with a commerce already vast, but with a commerce which within the century that has now opened shall cover and dominate the entire Pacific Ocean. [Applause] You are building your factories, you are tilling the fields; business man, professional man, farmer, wage-worker, all here in this State see a future of unknown possibilities opening before them,

I earnestly ask that you see to it that your resources, by use, are perpetuated for the use of the peoples yet unborn. Use them, but in using, keep and preserve them. Keep the waters; keep the forests; use your lands as you use your bays, your harbors, as you use the cities here, so that by the very fact of the use they will become more valuable as possessions.

I have spoken of the material things, of the things which are indispensable as the foundation, the base of national greatness. We must care for the body first. We must see to it that our tremendous industrial development goes on, that the well-being continues; that the soil yields its wealth in the future as it has in the past, aye, and tenfold more, We cannot for one moment afford to underestimate the vital importance of that material well-being, of the prosperity which we so abundantly enjoy, but I ask also that you remember the things of the mind and the soul as well as the body. Nothing has struck me more in going through California than the interest you are paying to the cause of education, than the way in which your citizens evidently realize that upon the proper training of the children, of those who are to be the men and women of a score of years hence, depends the ultimate welfare of the republic. Let me draw a lesson from you, the men of the Civil War. You needed strong bodies, you needed the supplies, the arms, but more than all, you needed the hearts that drove the bodies into battle. What distinguished our men was the spirit that drove them onward to effort and to strife, onward into action, onward through the march, through the long months of waiting in camp, onward through the fiery ordeal of battle, when men's souls were winnowed out as before the judgment seat. You then rose level to the duty that was before you because of the spirit that burned within your breasts, because you had in you the capacity of generous enthusiasm for the lofty ideal, because you realized that there was something above the body and greater than the body. And now, my fellows, men and women of California, men and women of the American Union, I ask throughout this country that our people keep in their hearts the capacity of devotion to what stands above mere bodily welfare, to the welfare of the spirit, of the mind, of the soul. I ask that we have strong bodies, well cared for, well clothed, well housed. I ask for what is better than a strong body, a sane mind. And I ask finally for what counts for more than body, for more than mind, for character; character which in the last analysis tells most in settling the welfare of either a nation or an individual; character into which many elements enter, but three, above all; in the first place, as a foundation, decency, honesty, morality, the quality that makes a man a good husband, a good neighbor, a man who deals fairly and squarely with those about him, who does his duty to those around him and to the State; and that is not enough. Decency and honesty are not enough. Just as in the Civil War you needed patriotism first, but it made no matter how patriotic a man was, if he ran away you could do nothing with him. [Applause] So in civic life you must have decency and honesty, for without them ability makes a man only the more dangerous to his fellows, the greater force for evil. Just again as in the Civil War, if the man did not have in him the capacity of loyalty to his fellows, loyalty to his regiment, loyalty to the flag, if he did not have in him that capacity, the abler he was the worse he was to have in the army. So it is now in civil life; the abler a man is, if he has not the root of righteousness in him the more dangerous a foe to decent government he is, and we shall never rise level to the needs of our nation until we make it understood that the scoundrel who succeeds is to be hunted down by public opinion, by the condemnation and scorn of his fellows, exactly as we hunt down the weaker scoundrel who fails. [Applause] But that is not enough. Decency and honesty are a basis, but that is all. I do not care how moral a man is, if his morality is only good while he sits at home in his own parlor, you can do nothing with him. Scant is the use we have for the timid good. In the war you needed patriotism, and then you needed the fighting edge. You had to have that. So in civil life we need the spirit of decency, of honesty, and then, in addition, the quality of courage, of hardihood, of manliness, that makes a man fit to go out into the hurly-burly and do a man's work in the world. That must come, too; and that is not enough. I do not care how moral a man is and how brave he is, if he is a natural born fool you can do nothing with him. I ask, then, for decency as the foundation, for courage and manliness thereon, and finally, in addition to both, I ask for common sense as the moderator and guide of both. [Applause]

My fellow-countrymen, I believe in you; I believe in your future; I believe in the future of the American republic, because I believe that the average American citizen has in him just those qualities—the quality of honesty, the quality of courage, and the quality of common sense. While we keep in the community the power of adherence to a lofty ideal and at the same time the power to attempt its realization by practical methods, we can be sure that our progress in the future will be even more rapid than our progress has been in the past, and that in the century now opening, in the centuries that succeed it, this country, already the greatest republic upon which the sun has ever shone, will attain a position of prominence in the world's history that will dwarf into insignificance all that has ever been done before. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at the Capitol Building in Sacramento, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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