Remarks in Cheyenne, Wyoming
Governor, Senator, Mr. Mayor, and you, men and women of Wyoming, my fellow Americans:
It is indeed a great pleasure to be with you this afternoon, to be greeted by the representatives of the wage workers, by the representatives of the business interests, by the men of the mine, the ranch, the men who are building up the industrial fabric of this State. It is especially pleasant to be greeted by the children. You know I have strong views about children. And I am delighted that the output in Wyoming seems to be all right in quality and quantity.
But in greeting all of you with thanks, I know that you expect me to say that my chief and most heartfelt greeting on this day of all the year is reserved for the men who in the mighty days proved their truth by their endeavor, whose metal rang true on war's red blood stained fields, the veterans of the great war. The veterans of the great war from '61 to '65, and with them today I include also, and I know with their assent, the men, my comrades of the lesser war. Of that war in which this nation needed to show but the merest fraction of her giant strength, and yet a contest fraught with immense consequences to the future of our Republic, and of the world as a whole. And I know also that you, the representatives of the volunteers, will gladly, most gladly join with me when I say a word of special greeting to the men who make it their life business to preserve untarnished the honor of the American flag, the officers and enlisted men of the army and navy of the United States.
It is a fitting thing to be introduced on Decoration Day by a United States senator, who not only served in the great Civil War, but to whom it was given to win the highest treasure that can come to any American soldier, the medal of honor for distinguished gallantry on stricken fields.
Now we of the present time, we whose lines are cast in pleasant places, we who are the inheritors of what you of the great war won, can best show our loyalty to you and to those like you, who fought victoriously in that war, not by praise from the lips alone, but by the way we shape our lives, so you need never have cause to feel that we are unworthy.
You left us lesson after lesson, just as important to be applied in civil as in military life. You left us a great lesson of brotherhood.
The applied lesson of brotherhood. And of all wars in history this was one of the strangest. For you the victors by the fact of your victory left to us the relation of brothers to the gallant vanquished. You made not only the side for which you fought your debtors for ever by the victory, but you left us also the right as Americans to feel pride in the valor shown by every American, whether he wore the blue or the gray in that struggle, who did his duty as the light was given him to see it.
One of the things that has always made me feel proudest, proudest of my countrymen, proudest of you, the men of the great war, is the fact that in a reunion of the Veterans of the Grand Army, there is when I pay a tribute to the valor of the men who wore the gray.
Each of you as he moved forward into battle was immensely interested in the man on his right and the man on his left. It is a comfortable thing, comrades, if you are going forward, that the man on each side goes forward too. It is always pleasant to feel when the order comes to move, he will move the right way. You don't care a snap of your fingers where that man's birth place has been; you don't care a snap of your fingers what was the creed in accordance with which he worshiped his Maker; you don't care a snap of your fingers what his social position, whether he was a banker, bricklayer, lawyer mechanic or farmer. It don't make any difference so long as he would "stay put". That was the important point. Exactly. That was what you wanted to know.
It is the same thing now in civil life. We can not afford, if we are to make this republic true to its promise, if we are to make its mighty future as essentially great as is its past, we cannot, as citizens, afford to sunder in the deep matters along lines other than the lines of conduct which separates good citizens from bad citizens. There are good and bad in every class, in every creed, in every occupation. And we are false to the principles which Washington and his fellow patriots sought to crystallize into government; we are false to the principles of Abraham Lincoln, and to those who held up his hands during the four dreadful years from '61 to '65, the four dreadful and ever glorious years from '61 to '65: we are false to those principles if we substitute any other test for a man's worth as a man—if a man is a decent citizen, if he does his duty by his neighbor, by his family, by the state, if he is just and fair in his dealings with his fellow citizens; and the man who denies it because he believes one creed or another; because he lives in one section or another; because he comes in one category of wealth or employment rather than in other, the man who denies the just treatment to be accorded to the citizen who himself behaves justly, is himself false to the principles of American citizenship. And I appeal with whatever force I may have, for the practical application in civil and social life, of these principles of brotherhood, for which many of your comrades, you men of the Civil War, laid down their lives, and for which each of you risked his life in those days.
I would preach to my countrymen not the life of ease; not the effortless life of comfort, of avoidance of risk, and avoidance of trouble. I would ask them not to strive to find out the things that are easiest to do, but the things that are best worth doing. You in '61, when Abraham Lincoln called to arms, did you do the easy thing? No, not a bit. The easy thing was to let some other man go to the war. You went yourselves. The easy thing was to stay at home, to live safely and comfortably, to try to go about your own business, and you chose the better part. Your choice was for toil and effort and hardship. You chose to be numbered among those who were struggling upward and onward over the rugged slopes. You chose to spend your days in the well-nigh insupportable fatigue of marching under the southern sun. In the marches, you remember, as recruits you found about midday the blanket was heavy, you were tempted to throw it away, and by midnight you wished you had two of them. You remember, don't you? Yes. You chose the life that meant shivering night after night through the bleak mid-winter hours, in the frozen mud of the trenches. You chose the risk of battle, the risk of disease, the risk of death in the fever cots of the hospital, and you did it and did it gladly, because you had in you the lift that lifted. Your souls felt the lift of generous enthusiasm for a high ideal.
It is just so in civil life. Oh my friends and countrymen, we don't now have to face the trials faced by those who upheld the statesman ship of Lincoln, and made good the generalship of Grant and Sherman, but each man here and each woman here is brought face to face continually with the choice, whether he or she will take the easy course or take the course which leads to hard work worth doing.
If you have in you the lift towards lofty things you will be impelled into stony roads, where you stumble, but where you walk upwards towards greatness, where you walk upwards towards the life that is worth living.
It is easy enough to avoid trouble for the present. You generally insure a larger portion of it for the future, but you can generally avoid it for the present if you build that way.
You men of Wyoming are making of this commonwealth one of the commonwealths of which all our people will be proud. I believe in you, I believe in those like you, and I believe in the future greatness of this country, because I believe that its average citizen—that you here, with your average citizenship, is such that this country during the centuries opening, will choose to tread the path of duty, and of greatness rather than of mere ease.
The nation, for a nation must live its life as an individual lives his, has great problems which confront it within and without. We are not to be excused if we blink at them, or if with selfish timidity we say we don't have to settle it in our day, let those that come after us attend to it. Each one of us is his brother's keeper, each one of us is the keeper of his sons, the son of each one of us is the keeper of the generations that are to come after us, and we must strive so to handle ourselves that when those generations arise they will find that we have taken the right steps in beginning the solution of the problems that will confront them, as they confront us. And we must attack them in a spirit of courage; in a spirit of love and also in a spirit of common sense.
This nation in dealing with foreign affairs with other nations should follow just that which we regard as right for a private citizen. In my day there was one kind of man who was not respected in the West It was a man who talked and boasted and threatened, and when the pinch came, didn't make good. Just so with our nation.
In other words, act in accordance with a proverb I heard in the old days when I myself lived in the cow country. The proverb ran: "Don't draw unless you mean to shoot."
I ask that you apply that nationally. I believe for instance in the Monroe Doctrine, with all my heart. I believe we should be prepared to back that doctrine up to any extent, if it became necessary, but the only way it can be done is by building an efficient navy; by keeping it up by constantly building and keeping in the best condition, afloat in sea practices, such magnificent battleships as the Wyoming, the ship named after your own state.
And now, my friends and fellow citizens, I have only to thank you for your reception, and to say how glad I have been to be here tonight, and to say good-bye, especially to you, the men of the great war. And on behalf of all our other citizens I, as one of them, on their behalf, pledge you that we shall try in the coming years to prize and live up to the high standard which you set for ever more as the standard of our national life. Good-bye, and good luck.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Cheyenne, Wyoming Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343680