Remarks in Detroit, Michigan

September 22, 1902

The first engagement I made this year was when I accepted the invitation so kindly extended to me by the Mayor of this city to speak on this occasion, for I felt that, coming from him, as it did, and extended in such a way, I could not refuse.

The war with Spain, though from it such great consequences have flowed, was itself but a small war, and in the presence of the veterans of the Grand Army all we can say is that we hope that we of the younger generation showed a desire to come up to the standard set by our fathers, the men of 1861 to 1865. Yet, though the actual deeds done were trivial when measured with the giant struggle in which Grant and Sherman and Thomas and Sheridan and Farragut and Porter won imperishable renown, it still remains true that the way in which these deeds were done was of good omen to the country. It emphasized in peculiar fashion the fundamental unity of our people. It brought home to us what should be the ever present fact in our minds— that a good deed done by any American is put down to the credit of all Americans, and that, therefore, conversely, no act of wrongdoing can be performed by one of our number without the evil effects being felt to a greater or less degree by all of us.

Here in Detroit, Michigan, you had the good fortune to illustrate this national unity. I myself served in the army, and therefore, at Santiago I served beside two regiments of Michigan volunteers, the Thirty third and Thirty-fourth, so that with many of your sons I can claim that right of comradeship which comes to those who have known one another under the close intimacy of such conditions. But Michigan also performed the unique feat for an inland State of manning one of the war vessels of the nation. A more striking tribute to the national militia of that State could not be paid than was paid when in their custody were placed the honor and interest of the United States. For there is no part of our honor and interest which we more jealously guard than that bound up in the fate of anyone of the war vessels of the nation.

It had been my good fortune while Assistant Secretary of the Navy to come here and witness for myself the zeal and workmanlike efficiency of the officers and enlisted men of your naval militia. It did not need a long acquaintance with them to convince anyone that they meant business, that they had in them the stuff that would make it safe to trust them in time of trial, and that they had diligently and assiduously improved their opportunities in learning all that they could of their profession. When the period arose to utilize as many as possible of our people who were trained to go down to the sea in ships, it was natural and fitting that one of our war craft should be manned by your naval militia. It is, of course, a far more difficult and complicated thing to learn war duty afloat than war duty ashore, for the naval profession is a highly specialized one. A peculiar honor, therefore, rightly belongs to the naval militia, and especially to the naval militia of the inland waters, who so quickly and well responded to the call made upon them.

Michigan's action is but one illustration of how closely bound together all our interests are in this nation. There are many such illustrations. Every State in this country had its sons represented on some of the war craft which won honor in that short struggle during the summer of 1898. The names of the ships no less than the birthplaces of the officers and men aboard them bear witness to the fact that our navy, like our army, is indeed national in character.

The war itself was an easy one. The tasks left behind us, though glorious, have been hard. You, the men of the Spanish War, you and your comrades in arms who fought in Cuba and Porto Rico and in the Philippines, won renown for the country, added to its moral grandeur and to its material prosperity; but you also left duties to be done by those who came after you. In Porto Rico the duty has been merely administrative, and it has been so well done that very little need be said about it.

In the Philippines the problem was one of extreme difficulty. But, after three years of bitter fighting, peace has been won by the valor of our soldiers and civil government has been introduced, so that the islanders have now greater opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than ever they have enjoyed before during their recorded history. Last week I ordered a taking of the census of the islands, and two years hence, according to the law of Congress, the first steps will be taken in the direction of giving the Filipino people a legislative assembly. No other Oriental country in the possession of an alien power—indeed, no Oriental country at all, save only Japan has been given any such measure of self-government and personal freedom as we have already given to the Philippines. One of the most important recent measures has been the providing of a cable for the Philippines, this being necessary both from a commercial and from a military standpoint. It is only just to the Representative to Congress from Detroit to say that we owe to him more than to anyone man the fact that this cable is to be laid down upon terms, absolutely satisfactory to the Government, which guarantee to the people of this country that their every right to and interest in the cable shall be amply safeguarded.

With Cuba the matter is different. We pledged ourselves solemnly at the outbreak of the war with Spain to give to Cuba independence. The world at large sneered at the pledge and even some of our own people scoffed at the thought that we intended to keep it. But we have kept it in good faith, with a keen regard for the welfare of the Cubans. We did not turn Cuba loose to sink into the welter of anarchy. We first administered the affairs of the island until order had been brought out of chaos, until the cities had been cleaned, the courts purified, an educational system started and a just and efficient government introduced. Then we turned the new republic over to the hands of those whom its people had elected as its servants and bade it Godspeed on its journey of independence.

But neither our duty to nor our interest in Cuba has come to an end with the establishment of its independence. Cuba's immediate proximity to the United States: rendered its well-being of such interest to us that we were forced to interfere in its interest by force of arms. For the same reason its future welfare cannot but be a matter of grave concern to us. We do not desire Cuba to stand toward any other nation in the same relations of intimate friendship and alliance that we desire to see it adopt toward us. It must, therefore, be in a certain sense a part of our international political system, and it accepted this position when it accepted the Platt amendment. But it is out of the question for us to expect that it will assume such a position toward us with regard to international politics without at the same time sharing some what in the benefits of our economic system.

It was for this reason that President McKinley urged, and that I have urged, and shall continue to urge, the need of establishing closer relations with Cuba by reciprocity. We urge reciprocity because it is for our interests to control the Cuban market, because we are bound to place the Cubans on a peculiar standing economically, when they consent in our interests, as well as their own, to assume a peculiar status internationally, and because it is fitting for a great and generous republic to stretch out a helping hand toward her feebler sister just starting to tread the path of independence. The case stands by itself and there can be no other like it. Porto Rico, Hawaii and the Philip pines have relations of varying intimacy to us; and they have either been admitted within our economic system or have been given some of the benefits thereof. Cuba, although independent, also stands in a peculiar position toward us, and should receive in a similar fashion a measure of benefit from and partial inclusion within our system.

The questions that ordinarily concern us as of prime weight in a tariff matter do not come in here as of primary importance. We cannot choose what the articles are which Cuba shall export. Doubtless very many of us would prefer for reasons connected with our own tariff policy that her inhabitants were engaged in different industries from those which they, as a matter of fact, now follow; just as doubt less others of our people would prefer that the market offered by Cuba was one for other things than those which she actually demands. But we can neither determine the wants nor the productions of Cuba. We must accept them as they are, and we must remember that in dealing with this island, especially now that we are about to build the Isthmian Canal, and our interest in the West Indian waters has become so great, we must shape our policy with a far-sighted regard for the future and for the interest and honor of the nation as a whole. I do not believe a particle of harm will come to any American interest from the adoption of a reasonable measure of reciprocity with Cuba. I am certain that the adoption of such a measure will be in the interest of our people as a whole. Above all, while fully acknowledging the high mindedness and moral sincerity of those of my associates with whom on this point I differ, I yet feel most strongly that by every consideration of a generous and far-sighted public policy we are bound to prove to Cuba that our friendship with her is of a continuing character, and that we intend to aid her in her struggle for the material well-being which must underlie healthy national development.

I speak in the presence not only of the men who fought in the Spanish War and in the Philippine War, which was its aftermath, but in the presence of the veterans who fought in the great war; and, more than that, I speak here in a typical city of the old Northwest, of what is now the Middle West, in a typical State of our Union. You men of Michigan have been mighty in war and mighty in peace. You belong to a country mighty in war and mighty in peace—a country of a great past, whose great present is but an earnest of an even greater future. The world has never seen more marvelous prosperity than that which we now enjoy, and this prosperity is not ephemeral. We shall have our ups and downs. The wave at times will recede, but the tide will go steadily higher. This country has never yet been called upon to meet a crisis in war or a crisis in peace to which it did not eventually prove equal, and, decade by decade, its power grows greater and the likelihood of its meeting successfully any crisis becomes even more assured.

I preach the gospel of hope to you men of the West, who in thought and life embody this gospel of hope, this gospel of resolute and confident belief in your own powers and in the destiny of this mighty Republic. I believe in the future—not in a spirit which will sit down and look for the future to work itself out—but with a determination each of us to do his part in making the future what it can and shall be made. We are optimists. We spurn the teachings of despair and distrust. We have an abiding faith in the growing strength, the growing future of the mighty young nation, still in the flush of its youth and yet already with the might of a giant which stands on a continent and grasps an ocean with either hand.

Succeed? Of course we shall succeed! How can success fail to come to a race of masterful energy and resolute character, which has a continent for the base of its domain and which feels within its veins the thrill that comes to generous souls when their strength stirs in them, and they know that the future is theirs? No great destiny ever yet came to a nation whose people were laggards or faint hearted. No great destiny ever yet came to a people walking with their eyes on the ground and their faces shrouded in gloom. No great destiny ever yet came to a people who feared the future, who feared failure more than they hoped for success. With such as these we have no part. We know there are dangers ahead, as we know there are evils to fight and over come, but we feel to the full that pulse of the prosperity which we enjoy. Stout of heart, we see across the dangers the great future that lies beyond, and we rejoice as a giant refreshed, as a strong man girt for the race, and we go down into the arena where the nations strive for mastery, our hearts lifted with the faith that to us and to our children and our children's children it shall be given to make this Republic the greatest of all the peoples of mankind.

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

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