Remarks Introducing the Reverend Charles Wagner to an Audience in Lafayette Theatre
Mr. MacFarland, Mr. Wagner, men and women of Washington:
This is the first arid will be the only time during my Presidency that I shall ever introduce a speaker to an audience; and I am more than glad to do it in this instance, because if there is one book which I should like to have read as a tract, and also what is not invariably true of tracts, as an interesting tract, by all our people, it is "The Simple Life," written by Mr. Wagner. There are other books which he has written from which we can gain great good, but I know of no other book written in recent years anywhere, here or abroad, which contains so much that we of America ought to take to our hearts as is contained in "The Simple Life."
I like the book because it does not merely preach to the rich and does not merely preach to the poor. It is a very easy thing to address a section of the community in reprobation of the forms of vice to which it is not prone. What we need to have impressed on us is that it is not usually the root principle of the vice that varies with variation in social conditions, but that it is the manifestation of the vice that varies; and Mr. Wagner has well brought out the great fundamental truth that the brutal arrogance of a rich man who looks down upon a poor man merely because he is poor, and the envy of the poor man toward a rich man merely because he is rich, are at bottom twin manifestations of the same vice. They are simply different sides of the same shield. The arrogance that looks down in the one case, the envy that hates in the other are really exhibitions of the same mean base and unlovely spirit which happens in one case to be in different surroundings from what it is in the other case. The kind of man who would be arrogant in one case is precisely the kind of man who would be envious and filled with hatred in the other. The ideal should be the just, the generous, the broad-minded man who is as incapable of arrogance if rich as he is of malignant envy and hatred if poor.
No republic can permanently exist when it becomes a republic of classes, where the man feels not the interest of the whole people, but the interest of the particular class to which he belongs, or fancies that he belongs, as being of prime importance. In antiquity republics failed as they did because they tended to become either a republic of the few who exploited the many or a republic of the many who plundered the few, and in either case the end of the republic was inevitable; just as much in one case as in the other, and no more so in one case than in the other.
We can keep this republic true to the principles of those who founded and of those who afterward preserved it, we can keep it a republic at all, only by remembering that we must live up to the theory of its founders, to the theory of treating each man on his worth as a man; holding it neither for nor against him that he occupies any particular station in life, so long as he does his duty fairly and well by his fellows and by the nation as a whole.
So much for the general philosophy taught so admirably in Mr. Wagner's book—I might say books, but I am thinking especially of "The Simple Life", because that has been the book that has appealed to me particularly. Now a word with special reference to his address to this audience, to the Young Men's Christian Association. The profound regard which I have always felt for those responsible for the work of the Young Men's Christian Association and the Young Women's Christian Association is largely because they have practically realized, or at least have striven practically to realize, the ideal of adherence to the text which reads, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only." If you came here to-day with the idea only of passing a pleasant afternoon and then go home and do not actually practice somewhat of what Mr. Wagner preaches and practices, then small will be the use of your coming. It is not of the slightest use to hear the word, if you do not try to put it into effect afterward. The Young Men's Christian Associations have accomplished so much because those who have managed them have tried practically to do their part in bringing about what is expressed in the phrase "The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." We can act individually or we can act by associations. I intend this afternoon to illustrate by a couple of examples what I mean by a man acting individually and what I mean by a man acting in association with his fellows. I hesitated whether I would use, as I shall use, the names of the people whom I meant, but I came to the conclusion that I would, because the worth of an example consists very largely in the knowledge that the example is a real one.
I have been immensely interested for a number of years in the working of the Civic Club of New York, which has been started and super intended by Norton Goddard. It is a club on the East side of New York city, the range of whose membership includes a big district of the city, extending from about Lexington Avenue to the East River. Mr. Goddard realized that such work can be done to best advantage only upon condition of there being genuine and hearty sympathy among those doing it. There are a great many people so made in this world (I think most of us come under the category) that they would resent being patronized about as much as being wronged. Great good can never be done if it is attempted in a patronizing spirit. Mr. Goddard realized that the work could be done efficiently only on condition of getting into close and hearty touch with the people through whom and with whom he was to work. In consequence this Civic Club was founded, and it has gradually extended its operations until now the entire club membership of three or four thousand men practically form a committee of betterment in social and civic life—a committee spread throughout that district, each member keeping a sharp look out over the fortunes of all his immediate neighbors, of all of those of his neighborhood who do not come within the ken of some other member of the club. Any case of great destitution, of great suffering in the district almost inevitably comes to the attention of some member of the club, who then reports it at headquarters, so that steps can be taken to alleviate the misery; and I have reason to believe that there has been in consequence a very sensible uplifting, a general in crease of happiness throughout the district. If we had a sufficient number of clubs of this kind throughout our cities, while we would not by any means have solved all the terrible problems that press upon us for solution in connection with municipal misgovernment and with the overcrowding, misery, vice, disease and poverty of great cities, yet we would have taken a long stride forward in the right direction toward their solution. So much for the example that I use to illustrate what I mean by work in combination.
As an example of what can be done, and what should be done, by the individual citizen, I shall mention something which recently occurred in this city of Washington, a thing that doubtless many of you know about but which was unknown to me till recently.
A few weeks ago when I was walking back from church on Sunday I noticed a great fire and found that it was Downey's livery stable you recollect it three or four weeks ago, when the livery stable burned.
Through a train of circumstances that I need not mention, my attention was particularly called to the case, and I looked into it. I had long known of the very admirable work done with singular modesty and self-effacement by Mr. Downey in trying to give homes to the homeless, and to be himself a friend of those in a peculiar sense friend less in this community; and I now, by accident, found out what had happened in connection with this particular incident. It appears that last spring Mr. Downey started to build a new livery stable; his stable is next door to a colored Baptist church. Mr. Downey is a white man and a Catholic, and these neighbors of his are colored men and Baptists, and their kinship was simply the kinship of that broad humanity that should underlie all our feelings toward one another. Mr. Downey started to build his stable, and naturally wanted to have it as big a stable as possible, and build it right up to the limits of his land. That brought the wall close up against the back of the colored Baptist Church, cutting out the light and air. The preacher called upon him and told him that they would like to purchase a strip six feet broad of the ground of Mr. Downey upon which he was intending to build, as it would be a great inconvenience to them to lose the light and air; that they were aware that it was asking a good deal of him to cramp the building out of which he intended to make his livelihood, but that they hoped he would do it because of their need.
After a good deal of thought, Mr. Downey came to the conclusion that he ought to grant the request, and so he notified them that he would change his plans, make a somewhat smaller building, and sell them the six feet of land, in the strip adjoining their church. After a little while the preacher came around with the trustees of his church, and said that they very much appreciated Mr. Downey's courtesy, and were sorry they had bothered him as they had, because on looking into the affairs of the church, they found that, as they were already in debt, they did not feel warranted in incurring any further financial obligations, and so they had to withdraw their request. They thanked him for his kindly purpose, and said good-bye.
But Mr. Downey found that he could not get to sleep that night until finally he made up his mind that, as they could not afford to buy it, he would give it to them anyway, which he did. But, unfortunately, we know that the tower of Siloam often falls upon the just and the unjust alike, and Mr. Downey's livery stable caught fire, and burned down. It was Sunday morning and the Baptist church was in session next door to him, and the clergyman stopped, and said, "Now you women stay here and pray, and you men go straight out and help our benefactor, Mr. Downey," and go out they did, and got his horses all out so that none of them were burned, although he suffered a total loss.
Now, I call that a practical application of Mr. Wagner's teaching. Here in Washington we have a right to be proud of a citizen like Mr. Downey: and if only we can develop enough citizens like that we shall turn out just the kind of community that does not need to, but will always be glad to, study "The Simple Life," the author of which I now introduce to you.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks Introducing the Reverend Charles Wagner to an Audience in Lafayette Theatre Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343649