Address at the Hall of the Native Sons of the Golden West in San Francisco, California
[In response to greetings from the Association of Pioneers, Mexican War Veterans, Native Sons of the Golden West, and Native Daughters of the Golden West]
Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Keith, and You Who Have Greeted Me Today:
I thank you, men and women of the Golden State. I thank you not merely for the greeting you have given me today, but through you I thank your State for the week I have spent within her borders. I trust I came within them a fairly good American, and I leave them a better American. [Applause]
I am deeply touched by the beautiful gift you have given me, and you see this shows that even a President can be a successful bear hunter. (Laughter and applause.) I had begun to think that my acquaintance with that noble animal must cease.
Mr. Phelan, you pleased and touched me very much by what you said as to my feeling toward the pioneers. Of course I am glad to be welcomed by you, for you, the men of '49, the men of the Mexican War, you have done what I preach, and practice is always better than preaching. I should be sorry indeed if there were not societies like those of the Native Sons and Native Daughters in this State to keep alive the sense of historic continuity with the State's mighty past. [Applause] I have welcomed the sight of the feeling which has made the people of this State wish to preserve the ancient landmarks, landmarks of man and landmarks of nature, and which has made them desirous of keeping alive the memory of the great deeds and great doers, which gave the State to the Union.
Proud of your State? Of course you are proud of your State. How could you help being? I do not praise you for being proud of your State. I would be ashamed of you if you were not.
It is sometimes difficult for us fully to realize what has been done. Colonel, you and your fellow-veterans took part in a war which in its effects dwarfed into insignificance all the struggles of contemporary Europe. It often happens that at the time being two great contests are seen entirely out of perspective, that the real importance of them is shrouded from the eyes that look on at the moment, so that at the time of the decay of the Roman empire the struggles of the rival claimants for the throne of the Caesars seemed all-important to the people on the shores of the Mediterranean, but now we forget even the names of those under whose banners the rival factions fought, while for all time deeply imprinted in history are the deeds of the men, the barbarians, who came from the north and who founded France, England, Lombardy and Spain as we know them today, those deeds were of lasting consequence, but we have forgotten what the others fought about, so now no one cares to try to disentangle the cause of the wars between the successors to the empire of Alexander for the fragments of his monarchy, but the issue of the struggle between Rome and Carthage was big with the fate of the world. Here on this continent while great European nations spent their blood and their treasure in devastating warfare for tiny provinces, it was given to this people to wage war against man, to wage war against nature, for the possession of the vast, lonely spaces of the earth which we have now made the seat of a mighty civilization. [Applause] Why, Colonel, you and your fellows, you and the men who came here as pioneers, settled the destiny of half a continent and ultimately settled the destiny of the greatest of all the oceans. [Applause]
Great were your feats; great the deeds you did; you did them in iron times; and you could have done them only on condition of having iron in your blood, of having within you the spirit that drives a man onward over obstacles, over difficulties, that makes him refuse to be daunted, and out of failure through effort win ultimate success. [Applause] The days have changed. The pioneer days have gone, but the need for the old pioneer virtues remains as great as ever. [Applause] In every generation we see people who treat the mighty deeds of the fathers as an excuse for failing to do all that should be done themselves. It is therefore the duty of those of each generation who appreciate to the full what the work of the fathers meant, to keep alive the memory of that work as a spur to ever fresh effort on their part. [Applause] For that reason I hail with especial pleasure the existence of such societies as those which seek to band together the young men and young women native born to this State and seek to keep alive in them the spirit which will make them in their turn do mighty works, mighty deeds, of which their children shall be proud. [Applause]
We are proud of you. We are proud of the men of the war of '46, of the men of '49, because in 1846 and in 1849 you did not hold the fact that your fathers had done well in 1876 as an excuse for your doing nothing. [Applause] And we, if we expect our children to be proud of us and not to have to skip a generation in order to have cause to be proud, if we expect them to be proud of us, we must in our turn try to do to the best of our capacity the deeds ready at hand; try to grapple with the work that the nation finds to be done without its boundaries and within, the work of civic and municipal administration, the work of endeavoring to better our social as well as our political system, the work of striving to make more real, more part of our lives in practice, the principles of brotherhood to which we all in the abstract pay our homage, and also of keeping up our work as a people without our boundaries. As the Colonel said, this was the boundary. It is not. Sail westward and westward and you will find that the boundary has gone. San Francisco is not on the westernmost verge of our possessions. Run down the lines of longitude and you will find that it is in the exact center. [Applause]
I ask then, men and women of this great and beautiful State, this wonderful State, that you, that all of us approach our duties of today in the spirit that our fathers have shown in the different crises of the past, that we approach them realizing that nothing can take the place of the ordinary, everyday performance of duty, that we need the virtues which do not wait for heroic times, but which are exercised day in and day out in the ordinary work, the ordinary duty of the life domestic, the life social, the life in reference to the State; and if we show those qualities, if we show the qualities that make for good citizenship, for decency and civic righteousness in ordinary times, my faith is firm that when the need for the heroic efforts arises our people will in the future as they have always done in the past show that they have the capacity for heroic work. (Great applause.)
Theodore Roosevelt, Address at the Hall of the Native Sons of the Golden West in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/298038