Address at the Ceremonies Incident to the Breaking of Sod for the Erection of a Monument in Memory of the Late President McKinley in San Francisco, California

May 13, 1903

Friends and Fellow-Americans:

It is a befitting thing that the first sod turned to prepare for the monument to commemorate President McKinley should be turned in the presence of his old comrades of the great war, and in the presence of the men who, in a lesser war, strove to show that they were not wholly unworthy of those who in the dark years from '61 to '65 proved their truth by their endeavor; and with the blood cemented the foundation of the American Republic. [Applause] It is a solemn thing to speak in memory of a man who, when young, went to war for the honor and the life of the nation, who for four years did his part in the camp, on the march, in battle, rising steadily upward from the ranks, and to whom it was given in after life to show himself exemplary in public and in private conduct, to become the ideal of the nation in peace as he had been a typical representative of the nation's young sons in war. [Applause]

It is not too much to say that no man since Lincoln was as widely and as universally beloved in this country as was President McKinley. [Applause] For it was given to him not only to rise to the most exalted station but to typify in his character and conduct those virtues which any citizen worthy of the name likes to regard as typically American; to typify the virtues of cleanly and upright living in all relations, private and public, as in the most intimate family relations, in the relations of business, in the relations with his neighbors, and finally, in his conduct of the great affairs of state. And exactly as it was given to him to do his part in settling aright the greatest problem which it has ever befallen this nation to settle since it became a nation—the problem of the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery—exactly as it was his good fortune to do his part as a man should in his youth in settling that great problem, so it was his good fortune when he became in fact and in name the nation's chief, the nation's titular and the nation's real chief, to settle the problems springing out of the Spanish War; problems less important only than those which were dealt with by the men who, under the lead of Washington, founded our government, and the men who, upholding the statesmanship of Lincoln and following the sword of Grant, or Sherman, or Thomas or Sheridan saved and perpetuated the Republic. [Applause]

When 1898 came and the war which President McKinley in all honesty and in all sincerity sought to avoid became inevitable, and was pressed upon him, he met it as he and you had met the crisis of 1861. He did his best to prevent the war coming; once it became evident that it had to come then he did his best to see that it was ended as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. [Applause] It is a good lesson for nations and individuals to learn never to hit if it can be helped and never to hit soft. (Laughter and applause.) I think it is getting to be fairly understood that that is our foreign policy. We do not want to threaten; certainly we do not desire to wrong any man; we are going to keep out of trouble if we possibly can keep out; and if it becomes necessary for our honor and our interest to assert a given position we shall assert it with every intention of making the assertion good. [Cheers and applause]

The Spanish War came. As its aftermath came trouble in the Philippines, and it was natural that this State within whose borders live and have lived so many of the men who fought in the great war—it was natural that this State should find its sons eagerly volunteering for the chance to prove their truth in the war that came in their days; and it was to be expected that California's sons should do well, as they did do well, in the Philippines in the new contest. [Applause]

And now it is eminently fitting that the men of the great war and the men of the lesser war claiming not only to have been good soldiers but to be good citizens should come here to assist at laying the foundation of the monument to him who typified in his career the virtues of the soldier and exemplified in his high office our ideals of good citizenship. I am glad that a monument should have been erected here in this wonderful State on the shores of the Pacific; in this city with a great past and with a future so great that the most sanguine among us cannot properly estimate it; this city, the city of the Occident which looks west to the Orient across the Pacific, westward to the West that is the hoary East; this city situated upon that giant ocean which will in a not distant future be commercially the most important body of water in the entire world.

I have enjoyed coming into your State; coming into your city, and speaking to an audience like this, an audience composed so largely of volunteer soldiers, old and young. I wish to say how I have enjoyed seeing, and to-day reviewing, the officers and enlisted men of the army and navy of the United States—the regulars. Thank Heaven! the day is long past when the thought of any rivalry save that of honest and generous emulation in the service of the Republic could exist between regular and volunteer. [Cheers and applause] Need I say between regular and volunteer? Why, the regulars are all volunteers. In our country every officer, every enlisted man, in the navy or the army is these because he has volunteered to go in. And as I looked at the faces of the officers and men under General MacArthur and Admiral Glass I felt proud as Commander-in-Chief that they formed our army and navy and prouder as an American citizen to see such American citizens wearing the uniform of Uncle Sam. [Applause]

I thank you for coming here and for giving me the privilege of joining with you today in these solemn ceremonies of commemoration, the ceremonies of laying the foundation of the monument which is to keep green in mind the memory of McKinley as a lesson in war and a lesson in peace, as a lesson to all Americans of what can be done by the American who in good faith strives to do his whole duty by the mighty Republic. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at the Ceremonies Incident to the Breaking of Sod for the Erection of a Monument in Memory of the Late President McKinley in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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