Address to the Texas State Legislature in Austin

April 06, 1905

Governor, Mr. Speaker, and gentlemen:

No President of the United States, no good American, proud of his country, could enter this capitol and stand in this hall without feeling a certain thrill of pride in his citizenship, and in the history of the country's past. This building in which we are now is not only one of the largest, but one of the most beautiful of its kind throughout the world. It is eminently fitting that so great a State should have so fine a capitol.

There are one or two things that I should like particularly to say in this chamber, and to the members of the Texas legislature. I received a copy of the resolution passed by your body, introduced, I under stand, by former Minister Terrell, in reference to the passage of the interstate commerce act. I wish to thank you most heartily for what you did. I think that the longer our experience in public office is, the more we realize that at least 95 per cent., if not more, of the work of importance done by any public officer who is worth his salt has nothing whatever to do with partisan politics.

The things that concern us all as good citizens are infinitely larger than the matters concerning which we are divided one from the other along party lines. Fundamentally, our attitude in our foreign affairs and in reference to foreign nations, must, in the long run, if we are to be successful as a people, be based upon certain common sense rules of conduct; the identical rules upon which every self-respecting citizen must base his private actions.

This is especially true as regards all questions dealing with capital and labor; and especially in dealing with the great aggregations of capital usually to be found in corporate form through which so much of our business at the present day is conducted. It is essential in dealing by legislative action with corporate wealth, or, indeed, with wealth in any form, that we remember and act upon certain rules simple enough and common sense enough to state, but not always easy when it comes to acting upon them. Most emphatically we cannot, as good Americans, bear hostility to any rich man as such any more than to any poor man as such. My experience has been that the man who talks over-loudly of his hostility to corporate wealth cannot be trusted to act quite to the way he talks.

It is a good thing to have moderation in state affairs, but to make your deeds bear out absolutely your words.

With that preliminary, I would like to say in brief just what my position is as regards this particular question, with which I have had to deal, and as regards which the Texas legislature took the action I so much appreciated.

On the whole, there have been few instruments in the economic development of the country which have done more for the country than the railroads. I do not wish in any shape or way to interfere with the legitimate gain of any of these great men, whose special industrial capacity enables them to handle the railroads so as to be of profit to themselves and of advantage to all of us. I should be most reluctant-I will put it stronger than that—I should absolutely refuse to be a party to any measure, to any proposition, that interfered with the proper and legitimate prosperity of those men; and I should feel that such a measure was aimed not only at them, but all of us, for an attack upon the legitimate prosperity of any of us is in the long run sure to turn into an attack upon all.

With that proviso, as to which I ask you to remember that I mean literally every word, let me further add that the public has a right, not a privilege, but, in my view, a duty, to see that there is in its behalf exercised such a supervisory and regulatory power over the railroads as will insure that, while they give fair treatment, they them selves get it in return.

The proper exercise of that power is conditioned upon the securing of proper legislation, which will enable the representatives of the public to see to it that any unjust or oppressive or discriminating rates are altered so as to be a just and fair rate, and are altered immediately.

I know perfectly well that when you give that power there is a chance of its being occasionally abused. There is no power that can be given to the representatives of the people which it is not possible to abuse. As everyone knows, the power of taxation, which must, of course, be given to the representatives of the people, is the power of death, for it is possible to kill any industry by excessive taxation. There must be a certain trust placed in the common sense and the common honesty of those who are to enforce the law. If it ever falls, and I think it will, to my lot to nominate a board to carry out such a law, I shall nominate men, as far as I am able, on whose ability, courage, and integrity I can count; men who will not be swayed by any influences whatever, direct or indirect, social, political, or. any other, to show improper favoritism for the railroads, and who, on the other hand, if a railroad is unjustly attacked, no matter if that attack has behind it the feeling or prejudice of 99 per cent. of the people, will stand up against that attack. That is my interpretation of the doctrine of the square deal.

I want to say just one more word on an entirely different subject. I have always taken a great interest in the National Guard of this country. It is our pride that we have the smallest possible regular army. There is not another first-class power, there is not a second or third class power in the world that has not got, relatively to its population and wealth, a very much larger regular army than we have. We do not need anything but a small regular army. We need, and must and shall have, the very best regular army of its size that is to be had anywhere. We do not need a large regular army, because of the possibilities of our people in raising volunteer troops. These possibilities are largely conditioned upon the excellence of the National Guard.

Since I have been in Texas at almost every stopping place there have been members of the National Guard, companies of the National Guard, out to do duty in connection with keeping crowds in order, in preventing any trouble of any kind, in keeping the whole proceedings orderly and proper. I have been immensely struck with their soldier like efficiency. It is only what I ought to expect. When I was last in Texas I was engaged with certain others in raising a volunteer regiment, and as I think I know a good thing when I see it, I got just as many Texans as possible into that regiment.

Your whole history, from the days of Austin and Houston and Davy Crockett right to the present time, shows what splendid fighting material the average Texan makes. But I do not care how good the material, it is not going to amount to much if it is not given a chance. It is a most important thing for all of us, if we desire to keep the regular army small, that we shall have the militia, the National Guard of the several States, kept up to a proper point. Last year, I am happy to be able to say, at the maneuvers of the regulars, your Texas troops did admirably. I have been told again and again how well they did. I want to congratulate you upon the excellent law for the administration of the National Guard that has been passed by the Texas legislature.

I feel very much at home here. I have been governor and I have served in the legislature, so I have a good deal of fellow-feeling. I have had for a good many years to grapple with just about the some problems you are grappling with from time to time here; and I know, as any man who has taken part in active work must know, how easy it is for the outsider to say that everything should be managed perfectly, and how difficult it is to do even fairly decent work. There is a heap of difference between the critic, the onlooker, and the doer—the man who does the job.

Theodore Roosevelt, Address to the Texas State Legislature in Austin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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