Remarks at a Dinner of the Periodical Publishers' Association of America
Mr. Chairman and gentlemen:
It is always a pleasure to a man in public life to meet the real governing classes. I wish to bid you welcome to Washington, and to say but a word of greeting, and that word shall take the form of a warning and a hope. I did not speak in justice when I alluded to you as representatives of the governing classes. I think that we of the United States cannot keep too fresh in our minds the fact that the men re sponsible for the government are not the representatives of the people, but the people themselves, and that therefore, heavy is the responsibility that lies upon the people and upon all those who do most toward shaping the thought of the people.
Now, in the days of my youth I was a literary man. I have recently, in reading a book, been immensely struck by the thought developed in it by one of our greatest scholars, who was speaking of freedom and of the fact that freedom could not exist unless there went with it a sense of responsibility, and he used a phrase somewhat like this: "That among all peoples there must be a restraint; if there is no restraint there is for an inevitable result anarchy, which is the negation of all government."
Therefore there must be restraint. A free people has merely substituted self restraint for external restraint, and the permanence of our freedom as a people and our liberty depends on the way in which we shall exercise that self restraint.
Law—there must be more than good laws to make a good people. A man whose morality is expressed merely in the non-infringement of the law is a pretty poor creature. Unless our average citizenship is based upon a good deal more than mere observance of the laws on the statute book, then our average citizenship can never produce the kind of governing which it must and will produce. So far from liberty and the responsibility of self government being things which come easily and to any people they are peculiarly things that can come only to the most highly developed people, capable not only of mastering others, but of mastering themselves and who can achieve real self government, real For that cultivation of the spirit of self-restraint which is the spirit of self-reliance we must rely in no small degree upon those who furnish so much of the thought of the great bulk of our people who think most; and therefore, gentlemen, in greeting you here to-night I wish not merely to welcome you, but to say that I trust every man of you feels the weight of the responsibility that rests upon him. The man who writes, the man who month in and month out, week in and week out, day in and day out, furnishes the material which is to shape the thoughts of our people, is essentially the man who more than any other determines the character of the people and the kind of government this people shall possess.
I believe in the future of this people. I believe in the growth and greatness of this country, because I believe that you and those like you approach their tasks in the proper spirit-not always, but as a rule.
And, gentlemen, it seems to me that because of the very fact that we are so confident in the greatness of our country and our country's future we should beware of any undue levity or any spirit of mere boastfulness. Individual courtesy is a good thing, and national courtesy is quite as good a thing. If there is any one quality which should be deprecated in the public man and in the public writer alike it is the use of language which tends to produce irritation among nations with whom we should be on friendly terms. Nations are now brought much nearer together than they formerly were. Steam, electricity, the spread of the press in all countries, these factors have brought the people closer together than they formerly were. You can rest assured that no man and no nation ever think the better of us because we adopt toward them feelings which we should resent if they were adopted toward us. We have a very large field in warring against evil at home. When all is as it ought to be in nation and state and municipality here at home then we can talk about reforming the rest of mankind. Let us begin at home.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at a Dinner of the Periodical Publishers' Association of America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343672