Remarks in Jacksonville, Florida
Governor, Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens:
It is indeed a great pleasure to be with you here today, and be greeted as your Governor and Mayor have greeted me.
Your Governor has said exactly what I and every other faithful citizen feel when I meet the public, in whatever section of the country I may be. I have traveled thousands and thousands of miles and met at least one million people and delivered addresses to them. It is not the small points of difference but the essential likeness of the people of all sections that is noticeable. You will always find the average American a pretty good sort of a fellow when you get to know him.
Now as to the men of the National Guard I see lined up here, and who acted as my escort today, I wish to say that the last time I was in Florida I was en route to Tampa to embark with my regiment. In my regiment, organized at the beginning of the Spanish-American war, I think that there were more men whose fathers wore the gray than there were whose fathers wore the blue. The only rivalry that ever entered their heads was rivalry as to which man could show himself best entitled to the praise of having done all that in him lay for our country and our flag.
And now my fellow citizens, my fellow Americans, exactly as all of us, whether we live in the East or the West, in the North or the South, have a right merely as Americans to feel pride in the past, arid exactly as we are knit together by this common heritage of memories, so we are knit together by the bond of our common interests in the future.
Many and great problems lie before us. If we treat the mighty heroes of the past merely as excuses for sitting lazily down in the present, or for standing aside from the rough work of the world, then these memories will prove a curse instead of a blessing.
But if we treat them as I believe we shall treat them, not as excuses for inaction, but as incentives to make us show that we are worthy of our fathers' fathers, then in truth the deeds of the past will not have been wasted, for they shall bring forth fruit a hundred fold in the present generation.
We of this nation, we the citizens of this mighty and wonderful Republic, stretching across a continent between the two great oceans, enjoy extraordinary privileges, and as our opportunity is great, there fore our responsibility is great. We have duties to perform both abroad and at home, and we cannot shrink either set of duties and fully retain our self respect.
Here in Florida, the first of the Gulf States which I have visited upon this trip, I wish to say a special word about the Panama Canal. I believe that the canal will be of great benefit to all our people, but most of all to the States of the South Atlantic, the Gulf and the Pacific slope. When completed the canal will stand as a monument to this nation; for it will be the greatest engineering feat ever yet accomplished in the world. It will be a good thing for the world as a whole, and for the people of the Isthmus and of the northern portions of South America in particular. Because of our especial interest in it, and because of the position we occupy on this hemisphere, it is a matter of special pride to us that our nation, the American nation, should have undertaken the performance of this world duty. A body of the most eminent engineers in the world, both Americans and foreigners, has been summoned to advise as to the exact type of canal which should be built. At no distant date I hope to be able to announce what their advice is, and also the action taken upon their advice. Meanwhile the work is already well under way, and has advanced sufficiently far to enable me to announce with certainty that it can surely be accomplished, and probably at rather less expense than was anticipated. But upon the last point, as well as upon the question of time, no positive statement can be made until the report of the commission of engineers as to the exact type of canal has been received. The work is as difficult as it is important; and it is, of course, inevitable that from time to time difficulties will occur and checks be encountered. When ever such is the case the men of little faith at home will lose that little faith, and the critics who confound hysteria with emphasis will act after their kind. But our people as a whole possess not only faith, but resolution, and are of too virile fiber to be swept one way or the other by mere sensationalism. No check that may come will be of more than trivial and passing consequence, will inflict any permanent damage, or cause any serious delay. The work can be done, is being done, and will be done. What has already been accomplished is a guaranty as to the future.
When any such work is undertaken there are always many mere adventurers who flock to where it is going on, and many men who think they are adventurers, but who are in reality either weak or timid, follow in their footsteps. Some of the first class will now and then cause trouble in one way or another. But every care will be taken to detect any misdeed on their part and to punish them as soon as the misdeed is detected. As for the second class they will cause trouble chiefly by losing heart, returning home, or writing home, and raising a cry that they are not happy and that the conditions of life are not easy, or that the work is not being done as they think it ought to be done. Now these men stand just as the stragglers and laggards stand who are ever to be found in the rear of even a victorious army. The veterans of the Civil War who are here present will tell you that the very rear of an army, even when it is victorious, is apt to look and behave as if the victory were defeat. And just the same thing is true in any great enterprise in civil life; there are always weaklings who get trampled down or lose heart, and there are always people who listen to their complaints. They amount to nothing one way or the other, so far as achieving results is concerned; and their complaints and outcries need never detain us.
I call your attention specifically to the matter of health on the Isthmus. The climate was supposed to be deadly, and yellow fever, in especial, was supposed to be epidemic. Yet since we have assumed control there has been far less yellow fever than in our own country. The administration is steadily becoming better and more effective, from the hygienic as well as from every other standpoint. The work of building the canal is a great American work, in which the whole American people are interested. It has nothing to do with parties or partisanship, and is being carried on with absolute disregard to all merely political considerations; with regard only to efficiency, honesty and economy.
The digging of the canal will, of course, greatly increase our interest in the Caribbean Sea. It will be our duty to police the canal, both in the interest of other nations and in our own interest. To do this it is, of course, indispensable to have an efficient Navy (and I am happy to say that we are well on our way toward having one), and also to possess, as we already possess, certain strategic points to control the approach to the canal. In addition it is urgently necessary that the insular and continental countries within or bordering upon the Caribbean Sea should be able to secure fair dealing and orderly liberty within their own borders. I need not say that the United States not only has no purpose of aggression upon any Republic, continental or insular, to the south of us, but has the friendliest feeling toward them, and desires nothing save their progress and prosperity. We do not wish another foot of territory; and I think our conduct toward Cuba is a guaranty that this is our genuine attitude toward all our sister republics. If ever we should have to interfere in the affairs of any of our neighbors it would only be when we found it impossible longer to refrain from doing so without serious damage following; and even in such case it would only be with the sincere and effective purpose to make our interference beneficial to the peoples concerned. Of course, occupying the position we do, occasions may now and then arise when we can not refrain from such interference, save under penalty of seeing some other strong nation undertake the duty which we neglect; and such neglect would be unfortunate from more than one standpoint. Wherever possible we should gladly give any aid we can to a weaker sister republic which is endeavoring to achieve stability and prosperity. It is an ungenerous thing for us to refuse such aid; and it is foolish not to give it in a way that will make it really effective, and therefore of direct benefit to the people concerned—and of indirect benefit to us, simply because it is a benefit to them. In the last resort, and only in the last resort, it may occasionally be necessary to interfere by exercising what is virtually an international police power, if only to avoid seeing some European power forced to exercise it. In short, while we must interfere always cautiously, and never wantonly; yet, on rare occasions, where the need is great, it may be necessary to interfere, unless we are willing to confess ourselves too feeble for the task we have undertaken, and to avow that we are willing to surrender it into stronger hands; and such confession and avowal I know my countrymen too well to believe that they will ever make.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Jacksonville, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343622