Remarks in Bloomington, Illinois

June 03, 1903

Governor, friends and fellow citizens—men and women of Illinois:

It has been a great pleasure for me today to go through your great and beautiful State, and everywhere that I have been memories of the great past of the State and nation have been brought before me; and this evening I have listened to Gen. Stevenson telling of the great debates between Lincoln and Douglas, and those were giants in the days of great men. Yet this evening I feel naturally a particular pleasure in greeting my own comrades of the Spanish-American war; to see here, as I have seen in every Illinois audience, men who wear the button which shows that they fought in the great Civil War. Our war—the Spanish-American war—was comparatively a small job; all I can say is, we did it; and I hope the veterans of the great war feel that at least we showed the spirit they would want their sons and successors to show. If we did not go through the trials and troubles that they did, we at least did the best we could, and in our case there was not quite enough war to go around; that is a difficulty from which the men of the big war were wholly free. And I wish to make a special appeal in addressing you this evening—I wish to make at the outset an especial appeal to you to put into practical effort some of the lessons we learned from the Spanish-American war. As I was coming through the streets of your city, guarded as they were by members of your National Guard, to whom I wish to express my special obligation, I was particularly pleased to see a battalion of our naval militia. The other day in San Francisco I took part in dedicating a monument to commemorate the gallantry of the seamen of Dewey's fleet who on the first day of May five years ago, to the sound of their cannon, turned a new page in the history of this people not only this people, but the people of the world. Now my fellow citizens, I was able to take part in commemorating that victory; and we here tonight are able to take part in celebrating that victory, be cause, and only because, during the dozen years prior to 1898 our people were preparing the way for winning victories.

The American Navy was able in 1898 to add a new page to the honor of our republic because it had been built up during the pre ceding dozen years. The ships with which Dewey won at Manila had been built from three to twelve years before; the men under him had been trained by years of actual sea service in handling the delicate and formidable weapons of war entrusted to their care; the officers and the enlisted men, the men in the engine room, the men in the gun turret, all alike were able to do these things, because they had been trained in their use.

The Spaniards showed no lack of courage, for they fought hard; they fired a great deal, but they didn't hit; and we fired good enough to cut their fleet to pieces, and besides we had the courage in return. Not because we had the forethought to provide better vessels, but because we had the forethought to provide men who knew how to use them. And that habit, that use, could be acquired only in actual practice.

The honor of the victory on May 1st, 1898, belongs not only to the Admiral and the officers and the men who took part in the fight; the honor must be shared with all our people, who had taken part in the building up of that Navy; who had done their share in seeing to it that we had a Navy capable of accomplishing such deeds; every public man who by his vote in Congress, by his action in the executive branch of the government, added strength to the navy; the men who had voted for the ships, voted for the guns, had voted for the powder to be burned in times of peace, that they might know how to burn it in war. Remember that it is only the shot that hits that counts. You have to have practice, and practice costs money. Every congressman who thus voted; every member of the executive branch of the government who had done his part in superintending the construction and providing for the construction of those ships, they all are entitled to their share of credit. Of course, that means, primarily, that the American citizen, the individual voter, who stood behind those congressmen, those public servants, and backed them up in their efforts to build up the navy, have a right to claim their share of the credit for what they did. Every shipwright who took even the smallest part in building those vessels of war, if he did his work well, if he didn't skimp it, is entitled to his share of the credit for the victory of Manila bay. Every officer and enlisted man in the navy, even though he left the navy before the battle took place, if while in the navy he had bravely and zealously done his part in seeing and handling the weapons, in trying the perfect mechanism, he is entitled to his part of the credit; and now, you here, I want you to see to it that you are entitled to your part in the credit for any naval victory in the far future.

It is a nice thing to talk of what our navy and our seamen have done; but that is in the past; it doesn't amount to anything, if you are not ready and prepared to match it with equal service in the future; and if our people are content with the actions of our navy in 1898, see to it that we go on upbuilding our navy, that we maintain its reputation, for the reputation of the nation will be held responsible for any failure in the future on the part of the navy.

I ask this audience—I ask the State of Illinois—I ask the entire Union to see to it, that there is no fault in the upbuilding and the maintaining of the American navy.

This is not a party question, and never was. This had been going on through successive administrations, for a dozen years prior to that battle, and our navy was built up by the votes of Congress under the control of both parties; it was built up under secretaries of the navy representing both parties. It was built up because the American public rightly demands that all party lines be obliterated at high water mark on the ocean; and now you see to it that there is no turning back; that we go on with what has been done—not only to keep our navy at what it is, but to make it steadily stronger and better.

I have illimitable faith in the American fighting man, if you give him a chance; and I ask that the chance be given him; and remember if at any time this nation sends unfit ships, or untrained crews to battle, and disaster should follow, the blame would not lie with those who commanded or manned those ships, but it would lie at the doors of our own people, for not having seen to it that there was adequate preparation in advance. That is one of the peculiarities of a government like ours—you are the sovereigns; you, the men of this nation; and when you have the power, you cannot escape the responsibility. I therefore ask you to remember that the responsibility is yours, and to see that your representatives in public life feel that responsibility, and always provide Uncle Sam with his right-hand weapon—the navy—in proper shape.

A great nation such as ours cannot play a small part in the world; a small nation can play a small part, and still retain its respect, because it is unfair to ask of it that it should do the impossible. But a great nation cannot play a small part. We, with our eighty millions of people, rapidly increasing in population and wealth—a continent grasping the crest of an ocean with either hand, cannot play a small part in the world. We have to play a big part, and it is left with us to decide whether we will play that big part well or ill. And now it is left to you, my fellow countrymen. Do you hesitate in your decision, when you are called upon to play that part, either for weal or for woe?

This nation must treat all fairly, and in that case it behoves us all that the nation treat all powers worthily and with fairness. We in the Western Hemisphere for eighty years assumed the position that our interests and our power demand the exercise of a certain right of supervision over the different countries in this continent, lying south of us. We have said that no European power, no foreign power shall acquire territory at the expense of those people; they shall not acquire control over the land of any American power. We call that the Monroe Doctrine. I believe in it with all my heart. It is not international law, but we can make it just as good as international law if we have the navy to back it up.

I do not believe any European power has any thought hostile to us; I think their intentions are good; but I think a good sized navy will help to keep them in that position. That is in effect the result of the Spanish war, and the result in the Philippines. We did acquire certain interests, and now in the century just opened, if we improve our position, if we take advantage, as we will take advantage, of the position given to us, our coast line stretching in a huge semicircle, from the top of Alaska down to the southern portion of California, if we take advantage of that we must become the dominant power in the Pacific; we can keep dominance if we have the right type of a navy to back it up. There is no surer way of inviting disaster than by going down or backward from the high position we have taken.

I therefore ask all Americans who are interested in the greatness of our country's future, to see that the country handle itself in the future as in the past, so that we may hand down to our children an undimmed heritage. I ask all Americans to see to it that there is no let-up in the building up of our navy.

I have traveled during the past two months, from the Atlantic across the continent to the Pacific, and am now more than half way on my return journey. I have addressed bodies of my fellow countrymen, in the east, in what is known as the middle west, in the west, and beyond the west—in California—and wherever I have spoken to my audiences, the thought that has been most apparent, and always present with me, is the essential unity of our people everywhere. I have talked as one American to his fellow Americans. I have found them in every part of our land, responsive to the same appeals; responsive to the same ideas which I feel here tonight. Our people are one, and I think that until one has traveled a little in the country, he would hardly realize what the terms mean—east and west. I will stop for a moment and tell you a story: Some years ago I lived in the "cow country."

I was a cattle man myself, in western North Dakota. I had one of my men, at the end of the season, come to me, and he asked for his time; he said, "I am going to spend the winter in the far east." I said, "What do you mean by the far east--Norway or Nubia?" and his answer was, "Duluth." To him Duluth represented the extreme easternmost part of the horizon. The terms "east" and "west" are of. no consequence; if a man is a good American that is the important part; and if he is, he will be at home in any part of this country, from one ocean to the other, from the gulf to the Canadian line.

We have many problems as a nation, to settle in this century. We have problems from without, and problems from within; they are different from those which past generations had to settle. Those of the past were not as formidable as the problems with which the men of '61 were brought face to face. When Abraham Lincoln called for men, in the name of the nation, to avert the nation's death, we needed then to have qualities which were necessary at that time; but now, there are different problems for solution. We have new problems coming before us, but we must face them in identically the same spirit in which our fathers faced the problems of their time, and we must solve them aright.

There is no patent recipe for good citizenship; yet in applying the spirit in different ways, we need the same spirit, the same spirit on the part of the men who are to solve the many perplexing and difficult questions that will come before us—questions incident to our industries; the developments of today must be followed in the same spirit as that of the men who in 1776 founded this government, and who from 1861 to 1865 preserved it; the same qualities which made a good citizen then, will make a good citizen now, here and everywhere; whether ingenious or by whatever name it is called, those are of fundamental interest. In the average citizen, the same quality which made the average citizen a tower of strength to Lincoln and Grant. What we need is a high type of average citizenship. Under another form of government, it would be possible, I suppose, to win out with the average citizenship below; but with our form, the average citizenship must be the man himself.

The stream cannot rise any higher than its source, and our constitution—our laws—can do no more than to supplement the qualities in the average American man and woman. In the average man and the average woman, it is his or her duty to see that we are going onward as a nation; and what we need is that we have the average man. We need, then, that the average man shall possess a sound body—a sound mind; and that he shall furthermore possess what is more than body, or more than mind—character. Character, which is in the last analysis the determining factor in your nation's success, as it is in the individual's success. Character enters mainly into the man and into the nation, above all. In the first place, it is decency – honesty; the spirit that makes a man a good husband, a good father, a good neighbor, a good man to work by the side of, and a good man to deal with; a good man in his relations to the State and the nation; and if he lack that quality, no other can atone for it. As in the days of the Civil War, no matter how able a man was, no matter how brave he was, if he did not have that spirit in him, his courage would render him more dangerous to the nation; and as it was in the Civil War, so it is essential in the life of every man. A man may be very strong, and yet he has not got the root of righteousness in him—the root of decent living; it is his ability and his strength, to stand and do the right, that make him a tower of strength to the community and to the nation. It is very well to have the spirit of honesty and decency, and morality, but it is not enough. Like it was in our Civil War, it does not make the patriotic man. He may have the patriotism, but if he would run away his patriotism would go for naught. So in civil life; stamp it with the closest virtue, the qualities which go to make up the man in these particulars which I have just mentioned; and in addition to decency and honesty we need strength and courage; self-restraint; self-reliance; self-control, and the spirit that wills and will do what should be done, the spirit of recognizing the obstacles from which he will not flinch, but will go forward and trample it under his feet, and make it a stepping stone. So in the future we need strength, courage, and the qualities that are necessary to make up the man. Not only to say of a man that he is a good man, but a man of character; we know that he has courage as well as honesty; the two together are not enough, but with those he must have that saving grace of common sense.

In this case we have before us our citizens divided into two camps, the camp of men who mean well, and cannot accomplish anything, and the camp of men who do not mean well at all, and who can accomplish anything they undertake. With virtue and decency must go courage and must go sanity and in the sense of the spirit that is shown forth by Abraham Lincoln's words when he said, "I will strive to get the best, and if I can't do it I will get the best possible." We must not twist those words out of their well-meaning; we must not use them as an excuse for accepting less than the very best work we can get. We must not use them as an excuse for doing ill; but we must apply them in the spirit in which Lincoln applied them, than whom no man in his generation had loftier ideas; than whom no man in his generation sought and realized the ideals in a more practical fashion.

And now, my fellow countrymen, men and women of this great State, I believe in you; I believe in the citizens of this country; I believe in the country's future because I believe that the average man and the average woman of this nation has just those qualities of courage, of sanity, of decency, which must lie at the foundation of all national greatness. Good-night, I thank you.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Bloomington, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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