Address to the Wisconsin Legislature in Madison
I am glad to have the chance of saying a few words to you this morning in this beautiful city, the capital of your state, the seat of your great university.
Just one word of congratulation to you upon the fact that it is a beautiful city, and that you have been able to join in one place the capital and the seat of the great state institution of learning. I think that more and more of our people are realizing the fact that practical efficiency in the direction of shaping means to an end does not bar us out from paying proper heed to beauty, to surroundings. I remember well one spring when I visited this city feeling it was a fortunate thing for any young fellow to have the thousand associations that must inevitably cling around the seat of his education in his mind entwined with a place as beautiful as this is, with the two lakes, with the wooded hill separating them, with the capital of the state, and that sacred, cloistered calm that always associates itself with university buildings. But beauty of life is not everything. It is not the main thing. It is a good thing if it comes in connection with other matters.
Now one word first, especially with reference to your university. I am glad to see any institution of learning brought as closely into touch with the governmental methods of managing the state as must inevitably be the case here where there is such juxtaposition between the university and the state capital. Our universities, our colleges and academies fill a double purpose throughout the country. In the first place there is a percentage of the members who are to be trained in pure scholar ship, sometimes scholarship of a sort that has direct reference to certain pursuits in after life of immediate practical value; sometimes scholarship to be followed for the sake of the scholarship. And remember, eminently practical people though we are, we have from the beginning of our history, I am glad to say, recognized the worth of scholarship for its own sake.
There is that side to education, the desire to turn out scholars, students, teachers, each of whom I hope will be turned out within him the purpose to add to the sum of productive work of the country. Some time I would like to have a chance of speaking to the university just on that line. I want to see the student of the American university turned out, having deeply implanted in him the purpose to strive to do new work of value in the field of scholarship, not merely to go over those portions of the field that have been harrowed by ten thousand harrows before him, but to strike out and do original work of value; and I congratulate you of this university that already Wisconsin has contributed through the graduates of her university to such substantive work, to positive achievement in new fields. Therefore, our university must turn out scholars, but it must do more than that. It must turn out men—men and women!
I have followed the University of Wisconsin's really remarkable career in athletic fields. It does not confine itself to playing football in the west, it rows in the east. And any crew that is rowing against the crew of Wisconsin has no business in the game if it is not a first class crew. We like that. We like to see the boy who has got a healthy vigor in him which means he has not only developed his muscle, but has developed his pluck, his grit, his courage, his resolution. And to you who have ever seen, much less taken part, in the work of a nine or an eight or an eleven, you know besides physical prowess you have got to draw on a fund of resolution and pluck.
It is a good and first class thing to have our young men develop their bodies and develop the hardier, rougher qualities as well; I believe in athletics thoroughly. Let me add one proviso—I believe in them in their place. I do not want to see the nothing but an athlete. I would like to use a much stronger expression. It is a first class thing for a young fellow of twenty to be a crack halfback, but if at forty all you can say of him is that once he was a good halfback, then I am sorry for him. Good, hard play is an admirable thing as long as you recollect it is play. If you mistake it for work, if you think it is the end, you had better not play at all. The boy who is a good man on the crew, a good man on the team, if he, when he leaves college, treats that as partly an agreeable incident, partly a bit of preparation for the real work of life, it is a service to him. But if he thinks he has struck what ought to be his main profession, it is a misfortune. To repeat what I said a few days ago, I want to see the young men of America, whether in or out of the universities, fine of body; I want still more to see them fine of mind; but most of all we must hope to develop well that which counts for more than body, for more than mind--character.
I passed by on the way to this chamber the room into which, Governor, you said I should have a chance to look on our way back; the room, the memorial of the Grand Army, the memorial of those who fought in the great war. I do not think we can ever over-estimate the need there is that we should constantly keep in mind and apply to ourselves the lessons taught by those who fought in the great war; who saw the dark, bitter struggle from '61 to '65, success in which meant the making of this nation, the most glorious upon which the sun has ever shown.
Now those who won in that great contest, and those, who valiantly fought against us, who lost and who now are heartily and forever one with us. The men who fought in that great contest had to show more than one set of qualities. In the first place they had to show downright physical prowess and strength. No nation of weaklings could have won out in those years of trial. We needed to have the rough, powerful fiber of body, just as we needed to have the rougher, manlier, virile virtues in us. No mere sweetness, no mere love of culture, love of education, no mere capacity for adapting ourselves to the softer side of civilization, would have availed the men who fought to a triumphant ending the great civil war.
They had in them the stuff out of which heroes are made; the courage, the iron resolution, the unshaken resolve to face everything, to face death itself, rather than see failure come and the flag rent in two and dishonored. They had to show those traits; but, then those traits would not have been enough. Back of them there had to be the lofty disinterestedness of purpose which is embodied in and typified by and mighty Abraham Lincoln. You have got to have both qualities. No matter how good we had been; no matter how virtuous, we should have failed, we should have been overthrown if, as a people, we had not had the fundamental fighting virtue, and, on the other hand the fighting virtues would merely have made us a curse to ourselves and our neighbors if they had not been guided by a lofty disinterestedness of purpose.
In how many a nation's history in the past the student reads of the destruction that comes because to courage, to ability, to energy, to all the strong, manly qualities is added not disinterestedness, not the higher resolve to work with one's fellows for the common good; but the mean, angry, bitter desire to sacrifice all else for one's own personal advancement. If in the civil war our generals and statesmen, our leaders in the field and in council, had been only anxious each to win what power and glory he could for his own, this country would have gone down in ruin. We were saved because it was given to our people to develop not merely the qualities that endured and dared and did, but the loftier qualities that needed the endurance and the daring and the doing, all part of the successful effort for the common good of our people and of mankind. That was what was done in the iron days.
We live in peaceful days, but we need just the same qualities to work out aright our salvation in peace as were needed then to work out our salvation through war. In the end the qualities that we need for good citizenship are not the very extraordinary qualities. They are simply ordinary qualities properly developed. Courage is an ordinary quality, but it is a good one. Decency, honesty—decency in home life, decency in public life—nothing extraordinary about it, but very necessary. Common sense—I wish it were more common; not genius, not remarkable brilliancy, but just plain common sense. No man is going to be worth anything in private life if he has not got it; on the contrary, he is going to be very uncomfortable to live with. And in public life, if he has not got it, he is going to be a menace to the body politic. I do not care how brilliant he is, if he has not got the saving grace of common sense you can do but little with him. Just a one-sided development will never do. No one quality developed to the exclusion of others will save us. We have got to develop along several different lines; along the lines of courage, along the lines of honesty, along the lines of common sense, if we are to do good work, and the future of the United States, is, I think, safe, because the average state does on the whole develop as yours has developed, along those lines.
I am glad to be here in Wisconsin. I think that not only the people of Wisconsin, but the people of the country have a right to be proud of her development as a state, of what she has done, of the part she has taken in war, of the part she has taken in peace; and the people of Wisconsin and their development now also have a peculiar interest for every one concerned with trying to see what the American of the future is to be, because in Wisconsin one sees with unusual clearness the development of that American. He is going to be a man in whose blood flow streams from many different race strains.
From the foundation of the colonies here on this side from which the nation sprung, many different race elements from the old world have joined to make first colonial Americans, then the Americans of this independent republic. And that process has gone on from that day to this. The American is not descended from anyone stock. The American of the future will be descended, and no few Americans of today are descended, from two-thirds of the stocks of western and northern Europe, all the strains joining together to make a new type of man, different from and yet akin to many old world types, a type of man that I firmly believe will have in him something a little better than has yet been produced in this world, and who will develop into that something a little better, not by boasting about it, not by stating what a great and glorious man he is, but by setting to work plainly and steadfastly to become a middling decent man and keep on a middling decent man, and then go on getting better.
Promise is an excellent thing, but performance is a better one; and the more we settle soberly down to facing our own faults—and there are many of them in private life—we all admit that when we talk with one another—settle down to study our own faults, to getting rid of them, to seeing along what lines we are to strive for our betterment, and then strive along those lines, the better work we do for the American of the next generation.
We have every right to be proud of our past achievements. We have every right as a nation to believe that in view of those past achievements an even greater future opens before us, and we can do the best work toward winning glory and success in the future if we set our selves soberly to work facing the fact that we have faults, and grave faults, but resolved to overcome them, resolved to develop an even higher degree of the national traits of which we are proud, and confident that if we will steadfastly and in good faith work along those lines we shall in very truth make of this nation a nation the like of which has never before been seen on the broad bosom of the earth.
Theodore Roosevelt, Address to the Wisconsin Legislature in Madison Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343400