Remarks on Capitol Plaza in Austin, Texas
Mr. Governor and you, my fellow citizens:
I can not tell you how glad I am to be once more within the limits of your great and beautiful State. In thanking all of you for the welcome extended to me and in thanking especially the men of the National Guard who have escorted me at each stopping place, I know that you will not grudge my saying a particular word of greeting to the two sets among you, in the first place to the veterans of the Civil War; to the men who wore the gray, whom I have seen side by side mingled with those who wore the blue at every place in Texas where we have halted.
My fellow-countrymen, think how fortunate we are that the greatest war of the nineteenth century should have left us the right to feel pride alike in the deeds of the gallant victors and the gallant vanquished; alike in the deeds of those who wore the blue and of those who wore the gray, because each did all that in him lay to show that when the times came that tried men's souls he was willing to prove his faith by his endeavor.
It was given to me to have in my regiment many sons of Con federate soldiers and many sons of Union soldiers, but they knew only one thought in reference one to the other, and that was the generous emulation to show which could stand first when his country called for his services. So I wish to greet especially the oldest among you, the veterans, of whom the governor himself is one.
Next I want to go to the other end and say a word of greeting to the children. I have been particularly pleased to be greeted wherever I have gone by the great masses of school children, the children from the public schools and the children from the higher institutions of learning, state and private.
It is a mere truism to say that the prime work of any State should be to keep up and raise ever higher its standard of citizenship. Texas has a right to be proud of its industrial development and of its wonderful natural resources, but I will tell you the best crop for any State to rear after all is the crop of men and women. I believe in the future of Texas so heartily because I believe that you are steadily taking measures for the uptraining of the generation that in a very few years will take our places and rule the destinies of the State.
No State can be great without paying the penalty of responsibility that comes with greatness. This is true of the Nation. It is true likewise of the States that go to make up the Nation. You have here in Texas a commonwealth which in area and diversification of re sources already stands unequaled, which in population and wealth will soon be one of the two or three first in the entire land. That means that besides feeling exultation about it you ought to have a very heavy sense of responsibility entailed on you thereby. No man can do any work worth doing except at the cost of effort, of self-restraint, or forcing himself to achieve things. No State can do anything except by possessing just those qualities, because the State is, of course, simply the aggregate of individuals within it.
If Texas fails in any way the fault will be felt by the entire country, because its influence and its power are so great.
There is no royal road to good government; and I think all those interested in managing your public affairs will agree with me that what we need in our public officials is not genius, not even brilliancy, so much as the exercise of the ordinary, rather commonplace qualities of honesty, courage and common sense—the qualities that make a man a good husband, a good father, a good neighbor; that make it advantageous to have dealings with him in business, or make it worth while having him as a friend. These are the qualities which are fundamental, which should be shown by the man who has to do with public life; and do not forget that each one of you here has to do his share in governing this commonwealth. It is not a figure of speech; it is the literal fact that in the United States every man is a sovereign. Remember that the fate of the sovereign who does not do his duty is to get dethroned, and if the average man who makes the sovereign does not do his duty he will get ousted from his sovereignty.
If a man can not govern himself he will find a boss or some one else who can govern him; and then don't blame the boss—blame your self for not having the self-control, the resolution, the forethought and the sense of civic duty which would make you do your full part in the work of governing this country. You will not lose your birthright of citizenship unless by your own fault. If the average man keeps his head and his wits, and if he takes a little pains, he will not be governed that way. But do not let him sit down and blame the politicians, let him blame himself, for it is in his power to get the government that he seriously desires to have.
My fellow citizens, together with expressing the exultation that we have a right to express about our country, we need to listen to it when said and to have impressed upon us a sense of our own responsibility, and the shortcomings of which we are guilty if we do not rise level to that responsibility.
It is a very good thing that we should gather on State occasions, on the Fourth of July, and on public festivals and hear speakers tell how big a country we have; but it would be a better thing if we would go home and think over certain of the shortcomings that all of us have and make up our minds to remedy them in the future. What I ask of you and what I most firmly believe you will give is a patriotic perseverance in doing each his average round of duties, in doing the duties both of private life and as a citizen in public affairs each day, without waiting for some special time when heroism will be called for; but doing the humdrum work that comes to every man. If we do that, we will find that the affairs of state will be settled as we desire to have them settled. It is in private life just exactly as it is in war. Any man who has ever had anything to do with a volunteer regiment—and I suppose with any other regiment in time of war—knows that there are any number of fellows bursting with desire to be heroes but who are a little reluctant to police the camp meanwhile. They picture war to themselves only as a heroic charge against the foe; not as digging kitchen sinks and learning how to march so as not to throw away your blanket at 10 a.m. and at 7 p.m. wish you had not done it. The soldier's life at first is learning to do well the little things that come up every day, which if he leaves undone will make him pretty nearly useless.
The same thing is true of the citizen in private life. There is no use sitting at home finding fault with the way in which public affairs are handled, and then every four years in a burst of animosity against some person vote to turn him out. What you need to do, month in and month out, year in and year out, is your ordinary political duties as those political duties come up, and only under such conditions can you get really good public servants.
Let me say one more word of warning. In public life, you will sometimes encounter a man who will endeavor to lead you to do something which down at bottom you doubt being right, which he tells you will be to your advantage to do—usually something that may look like wronging some one else. But the man who will wrong some one else for your advantage will, when the chance comes, be very apt to wrong you for his own advantage.
My fellow-citizens, my fellow-Americans, I address you here under the shadow of your beautiful capitol of this great and wonderful State with its heroic memories of Austin, of Sam Houston, of Davy Crockett, of all the men who, in picture or in statue, are commemorated in these halls, and my strongest feeling is that, proud though you are of Texas, you can not be prouder of it than I am. One of the greatest and most splendid features of our American life is that each American has a right to be proud of the deeds of every other American, no matter from what part of the country his fellow-American may come. Your honor, your glory, are the honor and the glory of every man of our great country.
Two years ago I traveled from the Atlantic to the Pacific; I have come down to the gulf; I have addressed audience after audience of my fellow-citizens, and I have come away feeling more and more that the average American, North or South, East or West, is a pretty good fellow if once you get to know him.
And all that is necessary for our people is that they should get to know one another in order to appreciate how slight are the divergencies and how vitally fundamental is the union among them. Men and women of Texas, I thank you for the greeting that Texas has given me; I thank you for the chance that has been offered me to see you and to talk with you face to face; and I want you to feel that while I entered Texas a pretty good American I shall leave it an even better American.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks on Capitol Plaza in Austin, Texas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343727