Remarks in Asheville, North Carolina

September 09, 1902

It was not far from here as we measure distances in America that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was formulated. The gentleman who introduced me spoke of the great deeds of the men who in the Revolutionary War followed Marion and McDowell. My fore-fathers fought under Marion. My forefathers fought with the Georgia and South Carolina troops, who battled throughout the dark days when Cornwallis and the red dragoons of Tarleton overran the Southern states. They were present at King's Mountain, at the Cowpens, and they saw the final triumph when the men in blue and buff who followed Greene wrested victory out of defeat, and when at last the flag of the thirteen United States, which had been the thirteen colonies, waved without a rival along the coast and along the foot hills of the mountains.

It has been a great and peculiar pleasure to be greeted as I was today by the men who served in the Confederate Army. Yesterday and to—day I traveled through a region which sent its sons, some to wear the blue, some to wear the gray, all to serve with courage and self-devotion the right as it was given to each to see the right. The day before yesterday I went over to the battlefields of Chickamauga and of Chattanooga, over that space of territory which saw for two months one of the gigantic death wrestles of the Civil War, the territory partly in Tennessee, partly in my mother's state of Georgia, and I feel that the man would be but a poor American who did not come from the scenes commemorating the valiant deeds of those armies a better American than when he started.

While I was there a delegation of young men from the state of Georgia came to present me a cane cut from the battlefield, with the names of three Union generals and three Confederate generals on it. One of the Union generals, General Boynton, was showing me around the field. One of the Confederate generals, General "Joe" Wheeler, had been my chief in the Spanish war. Yesterday we stopped at a little station in Tennessee and among those who gathered to greet me was an old fellow who had worn the gray. He said: "I was one of Wheeler's boys." I said, "So was I."

Oh, my friends, the lesson of brotherhood, the lesson that is taught by such a greeting as I am receiving at this moment, the lesson that is taught whenever you see valiant and true men who wore the blue meet valiant and true men who wore the gray and strike hands with them, that lesson applies through all our national life, and it applies just as much in forming a judgment between class and class as between section and section. We never can succeed in making this country what it can and shall be made until we work together, not primarily as Northerners or Southerners, Easterners or Westerners, not primarily as an employee or employer, townsmen or countrymen, capitalist or wageworkers, but primarily as American citizens to whom the right of brotherly friendship and comradeship with all other decent American citizens comes as the greatest of privileges. We need good laws, we need honest and upright administration of the laws, but we need as the fundamental prerequisite for good government a high average standard of good citizenship in the men who make the laws and stand back of them.

If a man is not decent, then the abler he is the more dangerous he is to the community. In the Revolutionary War one of the bravest and most brilliant soldiers during the early years of the contest was the man who has left his name as a byword of infamy to the nations for all time; the man who fought with distinguished gallantry in Canada; the man who led all the American forces in the great decisive battle at Saratoga. That man, with all his courage, all his daring, all his superb military genius, turned because the root of righteousness was not in him; sought to betray his comrades for money, and left the name of Benedict Arnold as a hissing for evermore.

In civil life the danger is not so patent, but it is just as great if ability is not accompanied by a rightful sense of accountability to the moral law. In addition to honesty and decency you must have courage. I want to see every one be a good man, and in addition to that I want to see him a man. We must have the manly virtue deeply imbedded as part of our national characteristics if we are to do our work aright in peace or in war.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Asheville, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



North Carolina

Simple Search of Our Archives