Remarks in Clarinda, Iowa

April 28, 1903

Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens:

It is indeed a great pleasure to have the chance of seeing you this morning and of being here in your great and beautiful state. As I go through your state and see the soil, the crops, and above all the men and women, I do not wonder that Iowa is all right.

In thanking you all I know the others will not grudge my saying a special word of thanks to those who, beyond any others in the nation, are entitled to the gratitude of all of us, to the men of the Grand Army of the Republic. We have a country, and there is a President to address you just because of what you did from '61 to '65.

I am going to go from one extreme to the other. I greet the Grand Army first; next I want to greet the younger generation. I like your stock and I am glad to see it is being kept up. The children look all right in quality and quantity. And now one word to them and it is about the same kind of a word I would speak to you—I am awfully glad to see you, boys and girls. I believe in play and I believe in work, and I am pretty sure from the faces of some of the small boys I see that they believe in play too. Play hard while you play, but do not play while you work. Work hard while you work. That is sound sense, and it is sound sense for the children of the larger growth, for all of us. I believe in having a good time in life. But I do not believe in shirking any work for the sake of having a good time. I am sure that each one of us knows in his or her acquaintance some unwise father—I regret to state an occasional mother—who having worked hard and done his or her duty well, seems to forget that life in the long run is satisfactory about in the proportion that it means duty well done, and deliberately starts to bring up his or her child to do nothing, to be a little soft-hearted and try to shield them from all work. You have seen the mother, who be comes a mere household drudge, say that her daughters shall not touch a stitch of work; or the father, who is a hard working man, who lets his boys grow up as idlers; and then that father or mother will have a feeling that it is because they are so fond of their children.

It is not because they are fond of their children; it is because they are foolish. The poorest lesson that any American can be taught is the lesson of trying merely to have a good time, of trying to shirk what is hard and unpleasant.

I have spoken a word about the men of the Civil War. From '61 to '65 you gave up the life of ease at home, you left your families, you left comfort, and you went into the army. Heavens knows you did not enter it for the money—it was only $11 or $13 a month, I have forgotten which. You knew what it was to march all day long under the intolerable heat of the southern sun in summer, when at about noon, if you were recruits, one blanket was so heavy you threw it away, and at midnight you would like two. You knew what it was to lie out in the frozen mud of the trenches in winter; you faced fever cots in the hospital, death and maiming in battle; you saw the brightest and bravest pour out their life's blood like water, all for the sake of an ideal. It was because you had it in you to do that, that we doff our hats to you now; that we stand here as freemen of the greatest republic upon which the sun has ever shown. If you will look back over your lives as you hand on the memories to your children and to your country, to what part of your life is it a pleasure the easy part? No. It was when you dared and did all you could do, and toiled and worked, and fought, and spent your sweat and your blood in saving the nation. What is true of you in military life, is true of all of us in civil life. Each man here as he grows older looks back with pleasure and is glad to recall to the memories of his children, not the days that were easiest, but the days when he did his best work. That is what counts—having work to do that is worth doing, and then doing it as well as a man can. In the long run that is the greatest pleasure in life, and of all social pleasures the one which quickest turns to dust and ashes in the mouth is the love of pleasure for pleasure's own sake. The man or the woman who deliberately sits down to try to lead a life that shall be merely one that shall result in selfish pleasure, is not only a curse to the community, but a curse to himself or herself as well. In bringing up your children, the lesson to teach them is not how to shirk difficulties, but how to meet them and overcome them.

Here in Iowa you have built up this great state because you had in you the stuff out of which good citizenship is made; you have built up this city and the hundreds of others like it; you have built up the country around you, because your people have tried to do a man's work as a man's work should be done. This is what counts in the nation—two qualities, the desire to act squarely and decently, the desire to show in practical shape that you love your brother, that you will do what you can to help him and do your duty by the State—the desire to show the belief in you in morality, in honesty and in decency is not, with you, an empty form; and then in addition to that, the sanity that makes you follow out that virtue in a practical fashion; cloistered virtue does not count. In the Civil War it did not make any difference how patriotic a man was if he ran away. You wanted to have the man in the right feeling first, the right feeling for the flag, the right feeling for the country, and then to have him of the fiber that would make him stay "put" when the time came.

So it is in civic and social life now; so it is in the life of the man in his family, of the man in his relations to his neighbors, in his relations to the state; you have got to be decent; you have got to have morality; you have got to have virtue, not of the cloistered type, not virtue that sits at home in its parlor and wishes things were well outside, but the type of virtue that comes to the strong man who, when he sees a wrong, wishes to go out and right it; who is glad to step down into the hurly-burly of battle, in the struggle of actual life, and does his best to bring things about as they should be brought.

In closing let me thank particularly the members of the National Guard for having turned out as an escort; let me say how glad I am to meet you. I believe in you with all my heart and soul and I wish you well always.

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

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