Remarks at Dunsmuir, California

May 20, 1903

My Friends:

It is a great pleasure to greet you today. I have enjoyed the last two hours traveling up by this beautiful river and getting my first glimpses of Shasta. It has been a very great pleasure to come here to this State beside the Pacific Ocean and see your people. I think I can say that I came to California a pretty good American, and I go away a better one. [Applause] Glad though I have been to see your wonderful products, your plains and your mountains, your rivers, to see the great cities springing up, most of all have I enjoyed meeting the men and women to whom we owe what has been done with mine and railroad and lumbering camp and irrigated field, with the ranch and the counting-house, —the men and women who have made California what she is.

Almost everywhere I have been greeted by men who are veterans of the Civil War; or else by men who came here in the early pioneer days; and where that has not been the case I have met those who are their worthy successors, who are doing now the kind of work that is worth doing. I pity no man because he has to work. If he is worth his salt he will work. I envy the man who has a work worth doing and does it well; and surely no men alive are more worthy of admiration than those men to whom it is given to build up a giant commonwealth like this. It is the fact of doing the work well that counts, not the kind of work, as long as that work is honorable.

I speak to citizens of a community which has reached its present pitch of prosperity because they have done each his duty as his lines were laid. To the true American nothing can be more alien than the spirit either of envy or of contempt for another who is leading a life as a decent citizen should lead it. In this country we have room for every honest man who spends his life in honest effort; we have no room either for the man of means who, in a spirit of arrogant baseness, looks down upon the man less well off, or for the other man who envies his neighbor because that neighbor happens to be better off. Either feeling is a base feeling, unworthy of a self-respecting man.

I used the word envy, myself, just now, but I did not use it in a bad sense. If you use envy in the ordinary sense of the word its existence implies a feeling of inferiority in the man who feels it, a feeling that a self-respecting man will be ashamed to have. If the man is a good American and is doing his work squarely he need not envy anybody, because he occupies a position such as no one else in any other country, in any other age has occupied; and because we hold our citizenship so high, because we feel and have the right to feel satisfaction with what our people have done, we should also feel that the only spirit in which to regard any other man who does well, is a spirit of kindly regard and good will if he acts squarely; if he does not, then I think but ill of you if you do not regard him as a man to feel at least the public scorn, public contempt. It is, of course, a perfectly trite saying that in no country is it so necessary to have decency, honesty, self-restraint, in the average citizen as in a republic, in a democracy; for successful self-government is founded upon that high average of citizenship among our people; and America has gone on as she has gone because we have had that high average of citizenship. Our government is based upon the rule of a self-respecting majority. Our government has so far escaped the twin dangers of the older republics, government by a plutocracy or government by a mob, either of them absolutely alien to American ideals.

It has been a great pleasure to see you. I haven't any special word of preaching to say, because after all, men and women of California, I can only preach what in substance you have practiced, what our people have practiced in the making and carrying on of this government. From the days of Washington to the days of Lincoln we went onward and upward because the average American was of the stuff that made the nation go onward and upward. We cannot be dragged up, we have got to push ourselves up. No law that ever was devised can give wisdom to the fool, courage to the coward, strength to the weakling. We must have those qualities in us, for if they are not in us they cannot be gotten out of us. Of course all you have to do is to compare what other nations have done with governments founded as ours, the same type of constitution, the same type of law, which nevertheless have failed, have produced chaos because they did not have the right type of citizen back of the law, the right type of citizen to work out the destiny of the Nation under and through the law. Of course we need the right law; we need even more the honest and fearless enforcement of the law, enforcement in a spirit of absolute fair play to all men, showing favoritism to none, doing justice to each. We need such laws, such administration of the laws, but most of all we need to keep up that for the lack of which nothing else can atone in any people—the average standard of citizenship—so that the average man shall have certain fundamental qualities that come under many different heads, but under three especially. In the first place, that he shall have at the foundation of his character the moral forces, the forces that make a man a good husband, a good father, a good neighbor, a man who deals fairly by his fellows, whether he works with them on the railroad or in the shops or in the factories, whether he deals with them as a mechanic, as a lawyer, as a doctor, whether he grows the products of the soil as an earth-tiller, a miner, a lumberman, a sailor, whatever he is, whatever his wealth, if he acts squarely he has fulfilled the first requisites of citizenship. We cannot afford in our Republic to draw distinctions between our citizens save on that line of conduct. There are good men and bad men everywhere. All of you know them in private life; all of you have met them. You have got to have decency and morality in the first place, and, of course, that is not enough. It does not begin to be enough. No matter how decent a man is, if he is afraid he is no good. In addition to the quality of self-mastery, self-restraint, decency, you have got to have the quality of hardihood, courage, manliness, the quality which, if the people who founded this State had lacked, there never would have been a State founded here. You have got to have the men who can hold their own in work, and, if necessary, in fighting. You have got to have those qualities in addition, and you have got to have others still. I do not care how brave a man is and how decent he is, if he is a natural born fool you can do very little with him. In addition to decency, in addition to courage, you must have the saving grace of common sense; the quality that enables any man to tell what he can do for himself and what he can do for his neighbor, for the nation. Sometimes each of us has the feeling that if he has to choose between the fool and the knave he will take the knave, because he can reform him perhaps, and he cannot reform the 'fool; and even hardness of heart is not much more destructive in the long run than softness of head.

In our life what we need is not so much genius, not so much brilliancy, as the ordinary commonplace everyday qualities which a man needs in private life, and which he needs just as much in public life.

In coming across the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the thing that has struck me most is that, fundamentally, wherever one goes in this broad country, a good American is a good American. [Applause]

I thank you with all my heart for coming here, and I wish you all good fortune in the future as in the past. [Cheers and applause]

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at Dunsmuir, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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