Remarks in Joliet, Illinois

June 03, 1903

Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens, men and women of Illinois:

It is a great pleasure to have a chance of coming here to say a word to you. In greeting all of you I wish to say a word of special greeting to the children. As you know, I believe in children. I am very glad to see that in this city there seems no danger of race suicide. I have just one word for the children, which applies perhaps particularly to the boys. A very good motto to adopt in life can be taken from the football field: "Don't foul; don't flinch; and hit the line hard." That is a good enough motto for the older folks as well.

I am glad to have the chance of coming through this great State, of seeing your marvelous prosperity, what you have done in the country and the cities alike, what has been accomplished in agriculture, in transportation, in industrial development. Something of that comes from the enactment of wise laws and from honest and fearless enforcement of those laws. We need good legislation; we need straight and decent administration; but after all is said and done, back of the law stands the man as the chief factor. In the success of man now, as it has been in the past, as it will ever be in the future, must be the sum of that man's individual qualities.

Nothing can take the place of the lack in any man of industry, energy, thrift, business enterprise. No law that has ever been devised, or that ever will be devised, can possibly put the weakling on the same plane with the strong, the coward on the same plane with the brave, or the fool on the same plane with the wise. All that the law can do is to give a fair show to each man to develop the best there is in him, guarding him against injustice from others, and seeing that he works no injustice in return. Of course if the law does not do that, it fails in its duty.

Our modem industrial system is so complex and so delicate that we need the best and highest trained wisdom upon which we can draw to secure the continuance of. favorable conditions. It is easy enough to upset them; it is not so easy to build them up again; but having gotten all that the law can give us, and by law preserved all that the law can give us, we must still in the last analysis depend upon the average individual citizenship, upon the thrift, the energy, the power of work, the power of concentration of mind of the average man, to take advantage of those conditions.

There are many different types of work; different types of industry; all are honorable so long as they serve a useful purpose in the community. The prime lesson for all Americans to learn is the lesson of self-respect joined with respect for others; the lesson that if a man does his duty well, be he employer or employee, lawyer, merchant, farmer, wageworker, if he does his duty well he is a good citizen, entitled to the regard of every other good citizen. A man who fails to show such regard for his fellow stamps himself as being unfit to do his duty in American life.

The line of cleavage between good conduct and bad conduct runs at right angles to the line of cleavage between class and class, occupation and occupation, creed and creed, great means and less means.

A man is no true American who pays heed in others to the non essential features of our citizenship; the man is no true American who either looks down upon another because he is less well off, or hates and envies him because he is better off; either feeling is a base and a mean feeling unworthy of the heirs to the greatness of Washington, to the greatness of Lincoln.

The man who seeks to inspire one set of Americans to hate another because of difference of creed, because of difference of locality, difference of occupation, or of wealth, is a curse to the republic.

I believe, oh, my fellow countrymen, in the future of this republic, because I believe in you here to-day, and your fellow citizens of this nation; because I believe that the average American, be he rich or poor, whether he work in the country or the city, whether he work as employer or a wageworker, has in him the qualities of courage, of decency and of common sense, which in the aggregate make up the type of good citizenship upon which every great and successful nation must rest.

I have but this moment to address you, for we are running on schedule time; and there are so many cities in Illinois I want to see that I have my work cut out for me in trying to see them. Good bye and good luck.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Joliet, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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