Remarks at a Banquet Given By Attorney General Philander Knox in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens, my fellow Americans, men and women of Western Pennsylvania:
You have just listened to the reading of the great document which signaled our entry into the field of nations years ago. That entry was but the promise which had to be made good by the performance of those men and their children and their children's children. Words are good if they are backed up by deeds, and only so.
The Declaration continues to be read with pride by us year after year, and stands as a symbol of hope for the people of all the world because its promise was made good, because its words were supplemented by deeds, because after the men who signed it and upheld it had done their work, the men who came again after them generation by generation, did their work in turn. The Declaration of Independence has to be supplemented in the first place by that great instrument of constructive and administrative statesmanship—the constitution under which we now live. The document, promulgated in 1788, under which Washing ton became our first President, supplemented the Declaration of 1776. We showed in the Revolution that we had a right to be free; we showed when we constructed the more perfect union of the old Confederacy that we knew how to use that right as it needed to be used.
And then seventy years and more passed, and then there came again upon the nation the days of iron need. There came again the days that demanded all that was best—the life itself of the bravest and the truest of the nation's sons— and with Sumter's guns awakened our people, and America, until then the incarnate Genius of Peace, sprang to her feet, with sword and with shield, a helmeted queen among nations. When the thunder of the guns called the nation's children they sprang forward to do the mighty deeds which if left undone would have meant that the words to which we have listened today would have rung as meaning less platitudes.
Those were the two great epochs in the nation's history, the epoch of the founding of the Union and the epoch of its preservation; the epoch of Washington and the epoch of Abraham Lincoln. These two generations had the greatest tasks to do, but each generation has its tasks, and woe to the generation which regards the deeds of the mighty men of the past as an excuse for failing to do in its turn the work that it finds ready to hand. The great deeds of those that have gone before us must ever serve not as a reason for inaction on our part, but as the keenest of spurs to drive us forward on the path of national greatness and justice. We have had our tasks to do in the last four years, or, rather, we have had, as every generation must have, many tasks to do, tasks affecting us abroad; and one of those tasks, being done as it has been done, has signaled our entry to a larger world. And it is most appropriate on this Fourth of July, this anniversary of the birth of the nation, it should be our good fortune to have promulgated the declaration establishing peace in the Philippines and the acknowledgment to the army of the praise so richly due our fellow Americans, who wear the uniform of the United States, for all that they have done in tropic islands during the last four years. We said Cuba should become a free republic, and we have kept our word. To have turned Cuba over to the hands of its own people immediately after the withdrawal of the Spanish flag would have meant ruin and chaos. We established a government in the islands; we established peace and order; we began to provide for the payment of the Cuban troops who had fought against the misrule of their oppressors; we instituted a public school system, modeled upon that which has been so potent a factor in our own national progress. We cleaned the cities in Cuba, for the first time in their history. We changed them from being the most unhealthy to being among the healthiest cities of the civilized world. We introduced a system of orderly justice to succeed one of irresponsible and arbitrative despotism, so that any man, rich or poor, weak or strong, could appeal to courts and know that he would receive his rights. And then, when in the fullness of time we felt they could walk alone, we turned over the government to them and now the beautiful Queen of the Antilles has started on her course as a free republic among the nations of the earth.
But there is one thing—our policy toward Cuba has not yet met with its entire fruition. It will meet it. The course of the last few years has made more evident than ever before that this nation must in time to come have pecuniary interests on the isthmus connecting the two Americas and in the waters and among the islands adjacent thereto. Nationally we cannot occupy the position toward these regions that we did toward others where our interests are far less, and this is doubly true now that Congress, with great wisdom, has provided for the building of an inter-ocean canal. Cuba must occupy a peculiar relation to us in the field of international politics. She must in the larger sense be a part of the general political system in international affairs, of which this republic stands as the head. She has assented to that view, and in return this nation is bound to give her special economic privileges not given to other nations.
I regret that a measure of reciprocity with Cuba is not already embodied in statute or in treaty; but it will be as sure as fate.
And now a word as to the Philippines. There are yet troubles in the Moro country, the country of the Mahometan tribes; but in the Philippines among the Filipinos, among the people who have been in insurrection, peace now reigns. It may be—I think unlikely, but it is possible—that here and there some seemingly dead coal of insurrection may for the moment be fanned into a live piece of ember and burst into a fitful flame. If so, that flame will be stamped out. But, speaking broadly and generally, peace has come. Our army has received its reward. And what was the reward of our army? The reward of the consciousness of duty well done. Our soldiers have fought, have toiled, have struggled, so that when victory came they might turn over the government to the civil authorities.
Victory came. To-day the proclamation of peace and amnesty has been promulgated, and at the same time our generals have been notified that the civil government is supreme in the islands. Does not that speak well, oh, my brethren, for our army, for our troops, that the troops of this people should war, hoping for a triumph which is to put the power into the hands of the civil authorities?
By law we are allowed an army at a maximum of one hundred thou sand men, at a minimum of sixty thousand men. While this war has gone on we have steadily reduced that army until now by orders promulgated, its limit is sixty-six thousand; and as a matter of fact we have two thousand or three thousand fewer actually under arms. That speaks well for our institutions. It speaks well for the triumphs of the policies with which as a nation we have been identified during the last four years, and, men and women of the United States, it shows how slight was the warrant for the fears expressed by those of little faith as to what would follow authorizing even the small army that was authorized. No body of our citizens deserves franker or more generous recognition at the hands of the country than the officers and enlisted men who wear Uncle Sam's uniform. For there is no body of our citizens which gives more disinterested service with less thought of material reward proportionately in any way to them.
And, now, my fellow citizens, I spoke of the task which has confronted those in Cuba and the Philippines as being one of the tasks which this generation had to face. It is only one. We have great problems at home to face. I am speaking in one of the great industrial centres not merely of America, but of the world. A million people stand grouped in a small radius around the spot where we now are. The growth of our cities within this radius has been one of the most striking phenomena of this day, and here, therefore, you are brought face to face with those problems which affected our entire civilization at the opening of this new century. The tremendous rush of our industrial department, which has brought in its train so much that is good and also of necessity brought somewhat of evil, the very intensity of the progress that has been made, has meant that new and infinitely difficult problems have arisen, which we must strive to solve as best we may..
Under our form of government, with its great decentralization of power, some of these problems must be solved through the work of private individuals working by themselves; others, by the association into organized bodies of groups of private citizens; and others yet, through the various governmental agencies of municipality, State and nation. Especially great, especially difficult are the problems caused by the growth and concentration of great individual and above all great corporate fortunes. It is immensely for the interests of the country that there should be such individual and corporate wealth, as long as it is used right, and when not used right, then it becomes a serious menace and danger.
The instruments and methods with which we are to meet these new problems must in many cases themselves be new, but the purpose lying behind the use of these methods, of those instruments, must, if we are to succeed, be now, as in the past, simply in accord with the immutable laws of order, of justice and right. We may need, and in my belief, will need, new legislation, conceived in no radical or revolutionary spirit, but in a spirit of common sense, common honesty and a resolute desire to face facts as they are. We will need then new legislation, but while laws are important it is infinitely more important that they should be administered in accordance with the principles that have marked honest administration from the beginning of recorded history. In the last analysis the most important department of civilized government is the department of justice. Think what it means!
The department of justice, justice which means that each man, rich or poor, big or small, strong or weak, shall have his rights, and shall not be allowed to do wrong to his fellows. And you here, of this city, have a right to feel proud of your representative in the Cabinet, the man under whom we can guarantee that the department of justice will be such in fact as well as in name. When it comes to practical work, the ounce of performance outweighs the ton of promise. And under Mr. Knox there has been very much more than an ounce of performance.
Oh, my fellow-countrymen, as we face these infinitely difficult problems, let us ever keep in mind that, though we need the highest qualities of the intellect in order to work out practical schemes for their solution, yet we need a thousand times more what counts for many, many, many times as much as intellect—we need character. Character, that compound of honesty and courage and common sense, will avail us more in the long run than any brilliancy on the stump or any advising legislative means and methods. The brilliancy is good. We need the intellect, we need the best intellect we can get, we need the best intelligence, we need still more, character. We need common sense, common honesty and resolute courage. We need what Mr. Knox has shown the character that will refuse to be hurried into any unwise or precipitate movement by any clamor, whether hysterical or demagogic, and, on the other hand, the character that will refuse to be frightened out of the movement which he thinks it right to undertake by any pressure, still less by any threat, express or implied.
Gentlemen, we have great problems. We can only solve them by degrees. We can only solve them by doing well each particular bit of work as it comes up for solution. Much can be done along the lines of supervision and regulation of the great industrial combinations which have become so marked a feature in our civilization, but if we recklessly try, without thought, without proper caution, to do much, we shall do nothing or else we shall work a ruin that will be felt most acutely among those of our citizens who are most helpless. It is no easy task to deal with great industrial tendencies. To deal with them in a spirit of presumptuous and rash folly, and above all to deal with them in a spirit of envy and hatred and malice, would be to invite disaster, a disaster which would be so widespread that this country would rock to its foundations.
The Mississippi sometimes causes immense damage by floods. If you cannot dam it and stop the floods, you can regulate and control it by levees. You can regulate and control the current; you can eliminate its destructive features; but you can do it only by studying what a current is and what your own powers are. It is just exactly so in dealing with great tendencies of our great industrial civilization. We cannot turn back the wheels of progress. If we could it would mean the absolute destruction of just such industrial centres as this. We will either do nothing or we will do damage if we strive ignorantly to achieve the impossible. But that fact does not excuse us for failure to strive to do what is possible. Special legislation is needed. Some of that legislation must come through municipalities, some through States, some through the national government; but above and beyond all legislation we need a fearless administration of those laws as they are on the statute books--honest and fearless administration of those laws in the interest neither of the rich man as such nor of the poor man as such but in the interest of exact and equal justice to all alike.
Such administration you will surely have while Mr. Knox remains as Attorney-General in the Cabinet at Washington.
And now, gentlemen, one word more and I have done.
I am glad to have the chance to thank you for the welcome I received in Pittsburg today. I can imagine nothing more inspiring to a public officer to better do his duty than to be treated as I have been here to—day. I shall feel this way when I leave here. The experience I have had will help me.
It has been said political differences cease at the water's line. In great crises when fundamental issues are at stake party differences cease. It is eminently proper that on great national holidays, and particularly July Fourth, we should come together, not as representatives of one body, but as Americans, to represent all that makes America what it is—a uniting on fundamental and great principles.
The average American is a pretty good fellow. But to know this, I should know the man. One failure we make is not to know each other. This results in differences. Sometimes it causes differences among localities; sometimes it causes differences between employer and employed, between the men of the town and the men of the country, be tween the men of one occupation and the men of another occupation.
The best solvent in all such questions is to bring the disagreeing together. To let them look at the question from the same viewpoint. I do not say that it will always settle the difference, but it will minimize the fault.
The most important thing of the meeting this morning was that of getting the people together. It always seemed to me that the most valuable lesson to be learned from the Civil War as regards civil life is the principle of brotherhood. What I mean by brotherhood is treating a man as a man. There are men in this audience—in every audience who fought in the Civil War that know what reliance they put on the man next to them. When a move was made they wanted to know if the fellow next knew where he was going. They wanted to know if he would "stay put." If so, he was "for him." That is what we want in civil life. It isn't the sphere in which duty is performed best, but it is doing the duty that counts. I do not care what a man's station may be. The good he does determines the citizen he makes. Now, gentle men, one word in regard to anything said. It can always be tested by what is done afterward. It is a very good thing to meet together on July 4 to remind ourselves of what our forefathers did.
I ask of every man here that he prove his truth by his endeavors. Let him live after the Fourth as he talks on that day.
Now, gentlemen, begging your pardon for shamelessly requiting your hospitality by preaching you a sermon, I bid you good night.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at a Banquet Given By Attorney General Philander Knox in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343491