Remarks at Columbia Gardens in Butte, Montana

May 27, 1903

Mr. Chairman, and you, my fellow citizens:

It would have been a great pleasure to come to Butte in any event; it's a double pleasure to come here at the invitation of the representatives of the wage-workers of Butte. I do not say merely workingmen, because I hold that every good American who does his duty must be a workingman. There are many different kinds of work to do; but so long as the work is honorable, is necessary, and is well done the man who does it well is entitled to the respect of his fellows,

I have come here to this meeting especially as the invited guest of the wage-workers, and I am happy to be able to say that the kind of speech I will make to you, I would make just in exactly the same language to any group of employers or any set of our citizens in any corner of this Republic. I do not think so far as I know that I have ever promised beforehand anything I did not make a strong effort to make good afterward. It is sometimes very attractive and very pleasant to make any kind of a promise without thinking whether or not you can fulfil it; but in the after event it is always unpleasant when the time for fulfilling comes; for in the long run the most disagreeable truth is a safer companion than the most pleasant falsehood.

To-night I have come hither looking on either hand at the results of the enterprises which have made Butte sb great. The man who by the use of his capital develops a great mine, the man who by the use of his capital builds a great railroad, the man who by the use of his capital, either individually or joined with others like him, does any great legitimate business enterprise, confers a benefit, not a harm, upon the community, and is entitled to be so regarded. He is entitled to the protection of the law, and in return he is to be required himself to obey the law. The law is no respecter of persons. The law is to be administered neither for the rich man as such, nor for the poor man as such. It is to be administered for every man, rich or poor, if he is an honest and law-abiding citizen; and it is to be invoked against any man, rich or poor, who violates it, without regard to which end of the social scale he may stand at, without regard to whether his offence takes the form of greed and cunning, or the form of physical violence; in either case if he violates the law, the law is to be invoked against him; and in so invoking it I have the right to challenge the support of all good citizens and to demand the acquiescence of every good man. I hope I will have it; but once for all I wish it understood that, even if I do not have it, I shall enforce the law.

The soldiers who fought in the great Civil War fought for liberty under, by, and through the law; and they fought to put a stop once for all to any effort to sunder this country on the lines of sectional hatred; therefore their memory shall be forever precious to our people. We need to keep ever in mind that he is the worst enemy of this country who would strive to separate its people along the lines of section against section, or creed against creed, or of class against class. There are two sides to that. It is a base and an infamous thing for the man of means to act in spirit of arrogant and brutal disregard of right toward his fellow who has less means; and it is no less infamous, no less base, to act in a spirit of rancor, envy, and hatred against the man of greater means, merely because of his greater means. If we are to preserve this Republic as it was founded, as it was handed down to us by the men of '61 to '65, and as it is and will be, we must draw the line never between section and section, never between creed and creed, thrice never between class and class; but along the line of conduct, the line that separates the good citizen wherever he may be found from the bad citizen wherever he may be found. This is not, and never shall be, a government of a plutocracy; it is not, and never shall be, a government by a mob. It is, as it has been and as it will be, a government in which every honest man, every decent man, be he employer or employed, wage-worker, mechanic, banker, lawyer, farmer, be he who he may, if he acts squarely and fairly, if he does his duty by his neighbor and the State, receives the full protection of the law and is given the amplest chance to exercise the ability that there is within him, alone or in combination with his fellows as he desires. My friends, it is sometimes easier to preach a doctrine under which the millennium will be promised off-hand if you have a particular kind of law, or follow a particular kind of conduct—it is easier, but it is not better. The millennium is not here; it is some thousand years off yet. Meanwhile there must be a good deal of work and struggle, a good deal of injustice; we shall often see the tower of Siloam fall on the just as well as the unjust. We are bound in honor to try to remedy injustice; but if we are wise we will seek to remedy it in practical ways. Above all, remember this: that the most unsafe adviser to follow is the man who would advise us to do wrong in order that we may benefit by it. That man is never a safe man to follow; he is always the most dangerous of guides. The man who seeks to persuade any of us that our advantage comes in wronging or oppressing others can be depended upon, if the opportunity comes to do wrong to us in his own interest, just as he has endeavored to make us in our supposed interest do wrong to others.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at Columbia Gardens in Butte, Montana Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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