Remarks in Jamestown, North Dakota

April 07, 1903

Mr. Chairman and my fellow citizens:

I have only time to develop one thought to you today, and that is suggested to me by a letter sent me by a labor organization here in your city thanking me for some of the work that has been done in Congress this year, in connection with labor matters, in connection with what is called trust legislation. All that we have been trying to do, with a certain fair amount of success, through legislation and through administration, has been to do square and equal justice between man and man; to try to give every man a fair chance, to try to secure good treatment for him, if he deserves it, be he rich or poor, and to try to see that he does not wrong his fellows. After all, that is about what must be the essence of legislation, if it is to be really good legislation. Take such a matter as these so-called anti-trust laws—I always hate to have them called anti-trust laws or anti-corporation laws because they are not designed to hurt any corporation, they are simply designed for such regulations and control as will prevent the doing of ill. Take the anti-rebate law passed by the last Congress. It was merely designed to make effective previous legislation, to prevent any discrimination by any railroad in favor of or against any particular shipper—not trying to favor the big shipper or the little shipper; only trying to secure a fair deal for each, get fair play for each, so that each man shall have the chance to which he is entitled. That is not a bill aimed at the railroads, it is only aimed at any railroad that does anything wrong, in the same way that it is aimed at a shipper that does anything wrong—no more against the big shipper than the little shipper. It is meant to do square justice to each man, big or little, and to ensure, as far as by legislation we can secure, that he will do fair justice in return.

Take the report of the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission and the spirit in which that commission went to work. They were not trying to decide for the operators or for the miners. They were trying to do justice to both the operator and the miner, and to secure justice for the general public.

Legislation to be thoroughly effective for good must proceed upon the principle of aiming to get for each man a fair chance to allow him to show the stuff there is in him. No legislation can make some men prosperous; no legislation can give wisdom to the foolish, courage to the timid, strength to the shiftless. All that legislation can do, and all that honest and fearless administration of the laws can do is to give each man as good a chance as possible to develop the qualities he has in him, and to protect him, so far as is humanly possible, against wrong of any kind at the hands of his fellows. That is what legislation can do, and that I think I may say we have successfully tried to do both by legislation and by the administration of the law.

I have seen you grow up. I am proud of you. I can assure you that so far as in me lies the efforts of the National Government, legislative and administrative, will be to help you and all others of our people in the only way in which they can be helped—to help them to help them selves, to help them so that each man shall have the fairest field to show the stuff that there is in him, the qualities that he has at his command.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Jamestown, North Dakota Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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