Address at the University of California in Berkeley

May 14, 1903

President Wheeler, Fellow-Members of the University:


Last night, in speaking to one of my new friends in California, he told me that he thought enough had been said to me about the fruits and flowers; that enough had been said to me about California being an Eden, and that he wished I would pay some attention to Adam as well. Much though I have been interested in the wonderful physical beauty of this wonderful State, I have been infinitely more interested in its citizenship, and perhaps most in its citizenship, in the making.

When I come to the University of California and am greeted by its President I am greeted by an old and valued friend, a friend whom I have not merely known socially but upon whom, while I was Governor of New York, I leaned often for advice and assistance in the problems with which I had to deal. [Applause] And when he accepted your offer I grudged him to you. [Applause] And it was not until I came here, not until I have seen you, that I have been fully reconciled to the loss. But now I am, for I can conceive of no happier life for any man to lead to whom life means what it should mean, than the life of the President of this great University. [Applause]

This same friend last night suggested to me a thought that I intend to work out in speaking to you today. We were talking over the University of California, and from that we spoke of the general educational system of our country. Facts tend to become commonplace, and we tend to lose sight of their importance when once they become ingrained into' the life of the nation. Although we talk a good deal about what the widespread education of this country means, I question if many of us deeply consider its meaning. From the lowest grade of the public school to the highest form of university training, education in this country is at the disposal of every man, every woman, who chooses to work for and obtain it. The State has done much, very much; witness this university. Private benefaction has done much, very much; witness also this university. [Applause] And each one of us who has obtained an education has obtained something for which he or she has not personally paid. No matter what the school, what the university, every American who has a school training, a university training, has obtained something given to him outright by the State, or given to him by those dead or those living who were able to make provision for that training because of the protection of the State, because of existence within its borders. Each one of us then who has an education, school or college, has obtained something from the community at large for which he or she has not paid, and no self-respecting man or woman is content to rest permanently under such an obligation. Where the State has bestowed education the man who accepts it must be content to accept it merely as a charity unless he returns it to the State in full, in the shape of good citizenship. [Applause] I do not ask of you, men and women here today, good citizenship as a favor to the State. I demand it of you as a right, and hold you recreant to your duty if you fail to give it. [Applause]

Here you are in this university, in this State with its wonderful climate, which is going to permit to people of a Northern stock for the first time in the history of that Northern stock to gain education under physical circumstances, in physical surroundings, somewhat akin to those which surrounded the early Greeks. Here you have all those advantages and you are not to be excused if you do not show in tangible fashion your appreciation of them and your power to give practical effect to that appreciation. From all our citizens we have a right to expect good citizenship; but most of all from those who have received most; most of all from those who have had the training of body, of mind, of soul, which comes from association in and with a great university. To those to whom much has been given we have Biblical authority to expect and demand much in return; and the most that can be given to any man is education. I expect and demand in the name of the nation much more from you who have had training of the mind than from those of mere wealth. To the man of means much has been given, too, and much will be expected from him, and ought to be, but not as much as from you, because your possession is more valuable than his. [Applause] If you envy him I think poorly of you. [Applause] Envy is merely the meanest form of admiration, and a man who envies another admits thereby his own inferiority. We have a right to expect from the college bred man, the college bred woman, a proper sense of proportion, a proper sense of perspective, which will enable him or her to see things in their right relation one to another, and when thus seen while wealth will have a proper place, a just place, as an instrument for achieving happiness and power, for conferring happiness and power, it will not stand as high as much else in our national life. I ask you to take that not as a conventional statement from the university platform, but to test it by thinking of the men whom you admire in our past history and seeing what are the qualities which have made you admire them, what are the services they have rendered. For as President Wheeler said today, it is true now as it ever has been true that the greatest good fortune, the greatest honor, that can befall any man is that he shall serve, that he shall serve the nation, serve his people, serve mankind; and looking back in history the names that come up before us, the names to which we turn, the names of the men of our own people which stand as shining honor marks in our annals, the names of those men typifying qualities which rightly we should hold in reverence, are the names of the statesmen, of the soldiers, of the poets—the architects of our material prosperity also, but only also. [Applause]

Of recent years I have been thrown in contact with a number of college graduates doing good service to the country, and as I wish to make it perfectly evident what I mean by the kind of service which I should hope to have from you and which it seems to me worth while to render, I want to say just a word about two college graduates who have during the last five years rendered and are now rendering such services: Governor Taft in the. Philippines, and Brigadier-General Leonard Wood, lately Governor of Cuba. [Applause] When we acquired the Philippines and took possession for the time being of Cuba to train its people in citizenship, we assumed heavy responsibilities; so heavy that some very excellent people thought we ought to shirk them. I hold that a great and masterful people forfeits its title to greatness if it shirks any work because that work is difficult and responsible. [Applause] The difficulty and responsibility impose upon us the high duty of doing the work well, but they in no way excuse us for refusing to do it. We had to do the work and the question came of the choice of instruments in doing it. The most important and most difficult task after the establishment of order by the army in the Philippines was the establishment of civil government therein; and second only in importance to that came the administration of Cuba, during the three years and over that elapsed before we were able to turn its government over to its own people and start it as a free republic. When tasks are all-important the most important factor in doing them right is the choice of the agents; and among the many debts of gratitude which this nation owes to President McKinley [applause], no debt is greater than the debt we owe him for the choice of his instruments, such a choice as that of Taft, such a choice as that of Wood. [Applause] We sent Taft to the Philippines; we sent Wood to Cuba; both of them as tested by the standard of our commercial life, poor men; each man with little more than his salary to keep himself and his family; each man to handle millions upon millions of dollars, to have the power by mere conniving at what was improper to acquire untold wealth—and sent them knowing that we did not ever have to consider whether such opportunities would be temptations toward them; sent them knowing that they had the ideals of the American college-bred man and that, therefore, we did not have to consider the chance of a possible temptation appealing to them.

Taft has gone to the Philippines to stay there; not only forfeiting thereby. the certainty of brilliant rise in his profession on the bench or at the bar here if he had stayed, but at imminent risk to his own health, because he felt that his duty as an American made him go; that, as President McKinley told me of him, he had been drafted into the service of the country and he could not honorably refuse. [Applause] We have seen in consequence the Philippine Islands administered by the American official who is at the head of the government and by his colleagues in the interest primarily of their people, and seeking to obtain for the United States, for the dominant race, that spent its blood and its treasure in making firm and stable the government of those islands—seeking to obtain for that dominant race only the reward that comes from the consciousness of duty well done. [Applause] Under Taft, by and through his efforts, not only have peace and material well-being come to those islands to a degree never before known in their recorded history, and to a degree infinitely greater than had ever been dreamed possible by those who knew them best, but more than that, a greater measure of self-government has been given to them than is now given to any other Asiatic people under alien rule, than to any other Asiatic people under their own rulers, save Japan alone. That is an achievement of the past five years which I hold to be absolutely unparalleled in history; and when the debit and credit side of our national life is finally made up a long stroke shall be put to the credit side for what has been done in the Philippines under Taft and his associates.

In the same way Leonard Wood worked in Cuba. Put down there to do an absolutely new task, to take a people of a different race, a different speech, a different creed, a people just emerging from the hideous welter of a war, cruel and sanguinary, beyond what we in this fortunate country cannot readily conceive, to take a people down in the depths of poverty, in the depths of misery, just recovering from suffering which it makes one shudder to think of, a people untrained utterly and absolutely in self-government, and fit them for it; and he did it. For three years he worked. He established a school system as good as the best that we have in any of our States, He cleaned cities which had never been cleaned in their existence before. He secured absolute safety for life and property. He did the kind of governmental work which should be the undying honor of our people forever. And he came home to what? He came home to be thanked by a few, to be attacked by others—not to their credit—and to have as his real reward the sense that though his work had been done at pecuniary sacrifice to him, that though the demands upon him had been such as to eat into his private means, yet he had worthily and well done his duty as an American citizen and reflected honor, fresh honor, upon the uniform of the United States army, [Applause]

I have chosen Taft and Wood simply as examples, simply as instances of what other men by the hundred have done, Americans who have graduated from no college, Americans who have graduated from all our different colleges, and especially by practically all those Americans who have graduated from the two great typical American institutions of learning—West Point and Annapolis. Taft and Wood and their fellows are spending or have spent the best years of their prime in doing a work which means to them pecuniary loss, at the best a bare livelihood while they are doing it, and are doing it gladly because they realize the truth that the highest privilege that can be given to any man is the privilege of serving his country, his fellow-Americans. [Applause] As I am speaking to an audience with proper ideals, when I say that Taft and Wood have done all this service to their pecuniary loss, I am holding them up not for pity—for envy. The least mean form of envy is the envy of the man who does such work as they do. Every one here, every man, every woman, should feel it incumbent upon him or her to welcome with joy the chance to render service to the country, service to our people at large, and to accept the rendering of the service as in itself ample repayment therefor, Do not misunderstand me. The average man, the average woman must earn his or her living in one way or another, and I most emphatically do not advise any one to decline to do the humdrum, everyday duties because there may come a chance for the display of heroism. Let me just tell you one anecdote, then I am through. When I raised my regiment prior to going to Cuba we had recruits from every portion of the country in it, some of them without a very clear idea of what was ahead of them. I had one young man, full of enthusiasm, who about the third day came to me and said : "Colonel, I came down here to fight for my country; they have treated me like a serf; they have put me to burying a dead horse." [Laughter] At that moment his Captain, who was a large man from New Mexico, and not wholly sympathetic, came up and explained to him that he would go right on burying that dead horse and that the next task ahead of him was digging kitchen sinks; and if he did all that well we would attend to the hero business later.

I ask of you the straightforward, earnest performance of duty in all the little things that come up day by day in business, in domestic life, in every way, and then when the opportunity comes, if you have thus done your duty in the lesser. things, I know you will rise level to the heroic needs. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Address at the University of California in Berkeley Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives