Remarks in Haverhill, Massachusetts
My fellow citizens:
Naturally at the home of Secretary Moody I should like to say a word or two about the navy. I think that whenever we touch on the navy we are sure of a hearty response from any American audience; we are just as sure of such a response in the mountains and great plains of the West as upon the Atlantic or Pacific seaboards. The entire country is vitally interested in the navy, because an efficient navy of adequate size is not only the best guarantee of peace, but is also the surest means for seeing that if war does come the result shall be honorable to our good name and favorable to our national interests.
Any really great nation must be peculiarly sensitive to two things: Stain on the national honor at home, and disgrace to the national arms abroad. Our honor at home, our honor in domestic and internal affairs, is at all times in our own keeping, and depends simply upon the possession of an awakened public conscience. But the only way to make safe our honor, as affected not by our own deeds but by the deeds of others, is by readiness in advance. In three great crises in our history during the nineteenth century—in the War of 1812, in the Civil War, and again in the Spanish War— the navy rendered to the nation services of literally incalculable worth. In the Civil War we had to meet antagonists even more unprepared at sea than we were. On both the other occasions we encountered foreign foes, and the fighting was done entirely by ships built long in advance, and by officers and crews who had been trained during years of sea service for the supreme day when their qualities were put to the final test. The ships which won at
Manila and Santiago under the Administration of President McKinley had been built years before under Presidents Arthur, Cleveland, and Harrison. The officers in those ships had been trained from their earliest youth to their profession, and the enlisted men, in addition to their natural aptitude, their intelligence, and their courage, had been drilled as marksmen with the great guns and as machinists in the engine rooms, and perfected in all the details of their work during years of cruising on the high seas and of incessant target practice. It was this preparedness which was the true secret of the enormous difference in efficiency between our navy and the Spanish navy. There was no lack of courage and self-devotion among the Spaniards, but on our side, in addition to the courage and devotion, for the lack of which no training could atone, there was also that training—the training which comes only as the result of years of thorough and painstaking practice.
Annapolis is, with the sole exception of its sister academy at West Point, the most typically democratic and American school of learning and preparation that there is in the entire country. Men go there from every State, from every walk of life, professing every creed—the chance of entry being open to all who perfect themselves in the necessary studies and who possess the necessary moral and physical qualities.
There each man enters on his merits, stands on his merits, and graduates into a service where only his merit will enable him to be of value.
The enlisted men are of fine type, as they needs must be to do their work well, whether in the gun turret or in the engine room; and out of the fine material thus provided the finished man-of-war's man is evolved by years of sea—service.
It is impossible after the outbreak of war to improvise either the ships or the men of a navy. A war vessel is a bit of mechanism as delicate and complicated as it is formidable. You might just as well expect to turn an unskilled laborer offhand into a skilled machinist or into the engineer of a flyer on one of our big railroad systems as to put men aboard a battleship with the expectation that they will do any thing but discredit themselves until they have had months and years in which thoroughly to learn their duties. Our shipbuilders and gun makers must keep ever on the alert so that no rivals pass them by; and the officers and enlisted men on board the ships must in their turn, by the exercise of unflagging and intelligent zeal, keep themselves fit to get the best use out of the weapons of war intrusted to their care. The instrument is always important, but the man who uses it is more important still. We must constantly endeavor to perfect our navy in all its duties in time of peace, and above all in maneuvering in a seaway and in marksmanship with the great guns. In battle the only shots that count are those that hit, and marksmanship is a matter of long practice and of intelligent reasoning. A navy's efficiency in a war depends mainly upon its preparedness at the outset of that war. We are not to be excused as a nation if there is not such preparedness of our navy. This is especially so in view of what we have done during the last four years. No nation has a right to undertake a big task unless it is prepared to do it in masterful and effective style. It would be an intolerable humiliation for us to embark on such a course of action as followed from our declaration of war with Spain, and not make good our words by deeds—not be ready to prove our truth by our endeavor whenever the need calls. The good work of building up the navy must go on without ceasing. The modern warship cannot with advantage be allowed to rust in disuse. It must be used up in active service even in time of peace. This means that there must be a constant replacement of the ineffective by the effective. The work of building up and keeping up our navy is therefore one which needs our constant and unflagging vigilance. Our navy is now efficient; but we must be content with no ordinary degree of efficiency. Every effort must be made to bring it ever nearer to perfection. In making such effort the prime factor is to have at the head of the navy such an official as your fellow-townsman, Mr. Moody; and the next is to bring home to our people as a whole the need of thorough and ample preparation in advance; this preparation to take the form not only of continually building ships, but of keeping these ships in commission under conditions which will develop the highest degree of efficiency in the officers and enlisted men aboard them.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Haverhill, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343478