Remarks in Kansas City, Missouri

May 01, 1903

Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow Americans and my fellow citizens:

I am glad to have the chance of coming before the people of Kansas City this morning. I have been traveling through your great and beautiful State, and now I have come to one of those typical American cities of which all of us, in whatever part of the country we live, are genuinely proud, and in thanking you—including my old college mates— for this greeting this morning I know that the rest of you will not grudge my saying a special word of acknowledgment and of greeting to the men who wore the blue and the men who wore the gray in the times that tried men's souls. I do not usually say anything about our being a reunited country, because it is unnecessary. Of course we are reunited, and in every northern audience, wherever I see a group of men wearing the button of the Grand Army of the Republic, I am certain to find a group of men prompt to cheer every allusion to the gallantry of the men who wore the blue and the gray. It was my good fortune to command a regiment in the little war—you see, Gentlemen, with our war the trouble was there wasn't enough to go around; that wasn't a trouble from which you suffered—I had the good fortune to command a regiment filled alike with the sons of Confederate and Union soldiers, and as a mere matter of course the only rivalry was the eager desire of each to do the most by his actions to the common glory of the armies.

And you, by your lives, by what you did, taught us lessons, not merely of war, but of peace. Never before in the history of this world has any country been so fortunate as to see two great armies disband after so gigantic a struggle and instantly every man turn his attention to working as hard in peace as he had fought hard in war. You left us, you men of those two armies, not only the right to glory in the courage and to glory in the faith, but in the valor and the steadfast devotion of each to the right as God gave you to see the right.

You left us not only that right to glory, but you left us the lesson of the way in which you fought and in which you met defeat when defeat had to come; and the lessons you learned then teach us now the lesson we need most to apply: The lesson of sincere devotion to a lofty idea; the lesson of facing each task as it comes, with the world old virtues needed throughout the ages by every people, which is to work out successfully its problems in the world's history. In the first place there is the lesson of brotherhood. Standing together and judging each man his neighbor by that neighbor's real worth, as each of you moved to battle, as each of you spent the long weary months in camps, in some ways harder than the battle, each grew to feel of necessity that if he was to make a success of his part in the conflict it would be by showing the essential manliness of the soldier, and each was forced to recognize in his associates that manliness. It mattered very little what part of the country that man came from; it mattered not at all what way he chose to worship his Maker, whether or not he was a man of means or a man of poverty. What you were concerned with was if he was indeed a man, whether when the crisis came, he would stay "put," when the order came to move he would move in the right direction.

That war could not have been fought as it was, it could not have left us such deathless memories; memories of the valor shown by each side; it could not have done that had you been riven among yourselves by any artificial distinctions, and if we of today let any divisions creep in among us, whether of creed against creed, race against race, or rich man against poor man, it will go evil with us in the future. There is no patent device for getting good government, as there is none for winning in war. Weapons change and tactics change, but the quality of the fighting man remains unchanged as the qualities that made Caesar's legions victorious—the quality that made such superb soldiers out of the men who followed Grant and Lee. Discipline is necessary and the fool that will not submit will only be beaten. If you put the best of weapons in the hands of a coward he will be defeated by the brave man with a club.

After all has been done in the way of taking advantage of the best weapons it remains true that against a foe equal in power we can win only by showing the iron resolution, the hardened will that never bends till the end sought has been attained. No device that the wit of man can produce, no form of law or of organization among ourselves can supply the lack of fundamental virtues the absence of which has meant the downfall of any nation since the world began. No smartness, no cleverness, unaccompanied by the sense of moral responsibility will ever supply the presence of fundamental precepts put forth in the Bible and put forth in the code of morals of every successful nation in the history of the world from antiquity to modern times.

Always, in any government, among any people, there are certain forces for evil that take many shapes, but which are rooted in the same base and evil characteristics of the human soul, in the evil of arrogance, of jealousy, envy, hatred; and to certain people the appeal is made to yield to one set of evil forces. To some it is made to yield to another set, and the result is equally bad in each case. The vice of arrogance, of hard and brutal indifference on the part of those with wealth toward those who have not, is a shameful and dreadful vice.

It is not one whit worse than the rancorous hatred and jealousy of those who are not well off for those who are. The man, who, either by practice or precept, seeks to give to any man or withhold from him any advantage in law or society or in the workings of society or business because of wealth or poverty, is false to the traditions of this republic. We don't have to face the tremendous problems with which you, from '61 to '65, were brought face to face. We have some of our own to solve, and, if We are worthy to claim kinship, we must accept your great deeds, not as an excuse for our lying at ease, but as a spur to urge us on to effort, a whip to make us feel the keenest shame if we fall short.

Your problems were those of war. At the opening of the Twentieth century ours are problems of peace. The tremendous industrial development of this country with its complexities has brought with it very much of good and some of evil. It is because of that that you and I are here today. Kansas City exists today because of the tremendous growth of the country because of the wonderful improvement in the mechanism of business, both material mechanism, steam, electricity, machinery, and in the improved mechanism of minds which has developed good leaders capable of handling them. Let us think carefully before, by any act of folly, we destroy what has thus so marvelously been built up. It is easy to pull down but not so easy to rebuild or to replace, and let us take serious thought from the history of the republics of old and avoid the rocks on which they foundered and the chief rock—the chief danger in the path of each of the old republics of antiquity of the middle ages. This chief danger came from the growth and encouragement of anything in the nature of class hostility. It will be an evil day for us when we try to make this a government especially designed to help anyone class, save as that class includes honest, fearless, upright, hard-working citizens. And it will be only a less evil day when any considerable proportion of our people fail to remember that it is the duty of the government not to favor the. rich man nor to discriminate against him: nor to favor the poor man or discriminate against him, but to favor every man, rich or poor, if he but behaves himself and does his duty to the state and to his neighbors.

Every locality has its own particular shape of problem, and as these change or shift from time to time it would be useless to try to advise this or any other community with a view to any specific instance. All that can be done is to lay down certain general rules of conduct. In doing so I am well aware how easy it is to disregard advice on general lines, and yet all that can be done is to lay down a general rule and try in good faith, and then adapt our conduct to that general rule. In the general life of the country today, that country will go forward, each section, each organized unit within certain cities, states or counties, much in proportion to the way in which the dwellers therein realize that in the long run the good of all is the good of each, and in the long run we will go up or down together.

If misery comes to us it will be felt unequally but more or less by each. If good fortune comes again, it will be felt unequally but more or less by all. In our complex relations, the employer to the employed, one class with another, one section with another, we can work out a really successful result only if each of those brought together makes an honest effort to understand his neighbor's viewpoint, and then makes an honest effort while working for his own interests to avoid working to the detriment of his neighbors. This advice is so old, I suppose that it is almost trite, but we need to work on it in our industrial relations one with another. We are not going to make any new commandments at this stage of the world's progress that will take the place of the old ones. The truths that were spoken on Mount Sinai are truths today. The things that were true when the Golden Rule was promulgated are true now. Each man must work for himself; if he does not do so, there is no use for anyone to work for him; and each must try to get ahead, for his own sake, for the sake of his wife and children and with a full recognition of his duty to his neighbors, or in the end he will bring disaster not merely to his neighbor, but to himself, and a wrong done is as much a wrong if done by the big as by the little, as much by capital as labor, as much by the laborer as the capitalist; and the man is no real friend of his country, no real friend of any set of people in the country, if he appeals to the people only from the standpoint of asking them to see that they get their full share and omits to ask them to do full justice to others also.

In the long run the wage worker and the capitalist will go down in common ruin if each does not try to do justice to the other and work out a scheme of action which shall work to the common advantage; let me tell you just one story: It is a very easy thing to complain when people are feeling badly, or even if they are not feeling at all, and it has become common to kick when they wax fat, which is by no means in accordance with ethical standards. Well, in the old days I had a ranch in the Western country where the cowboy and the branding iron were more common than barb wire fences. There was a practice then and still is, I suppose, for the men to gather in all the stray calves. If no owner and no mother, properly branded, appeared to claim the calf at the end of the round up it was a maverick and by range law it would be branded with the brand of the range on which it was found. I had a man once— a good man—working for me, and one day while riding with him we found a maverick. We built a sage brush fire and the man took the cinch ring from the saddle and got ready to brand it with the thistle brand. When he was ready I stopped him. "Hold on," I said, "you're putting on my brand." "I know; I always put on my boss's brand."

"You go to the ranch," said I, "and get your time. If you'll steal for me, you'll steal from me."

This is a homely anecdote, but it has an application in social and business life, and no set can afford to follow any man who asks them to go into a career of self-interest. If they do, that man will get them to do wrong. We cannot trifle with the fundamental laws of righteousness and morality, and, least of all, in the complex relations of capital and labor.

Another thing, I maintain there is a certain tendency among many excellent people to believe that everything can be accomplished by law, that where there is a bad law it is due to the state and society, and that there is an immediate need for radical changes. The millennium is a good way off yet. Mankind lived some thousands of years ago. We have made steady progress, but it has been because while we kept our eye on the stars we kept our feet on the ground. It has been by working up to lofty ideals in practical ways that law can do something, at times a good deal. The honest and fearless administration of the law can do much good, but a bad administration can bring all our efforts to nothing. Often much can be done by organization among ourselves, but when all has been said and done, when the best laws have been enacted and well administered and we have done all we can do to help one another, it still remains fundamentally true, and has been so since the beginning of the world, that in the long run the chief factor in any man's success must be the sum of that man's qualities and characteristics. No law will ever make a coward brave, a fool wise or a weakling strong. All the law can do is to shape things that no injustice shall be done by one to another and so that each man shall be given the chance to show the stuff that is in him.

You, men of war, as I said, you might take a man with the best weapons devised by genius and you could not make a soldier out of him, because if he does not have the stuff in him it would be impossible to get it out. So in civil life there is not a man of us, not one, who does not at times stumble, slip, at times need a helping hand, and shame then on him who will not stretch it out. Shame on such a man! But if the man lies down you cannot carry him. If he will not walk for himself, help him up into the right path and help him in the only way. Help him to help himself. But if he won't exert himself, if he wants to rely on others, above all, if he wants to moan about his "wrongs," make up your minds you can do little with him.

There is no device to make good government. There are plenty of countries like ours, governed under the same laws,, and the net outcome is absolutely different, because back of the laws lies a different set of men, who determine the success or failure of any republic, and there is no patent device for getting good citizenship. We need strong bodies; we need more than that; we need strong minds, and, more than that, we need character into which many elements enter, the principal ones being honesty in its widest and deepest sense, decency and morality. These make a man a good father, a good husband, a good employer, a good man in his relations to the state, and something more. But it matters nothing how good a man be if he is afraid; you can't do a thing with him. The man who sits at home in the parlor and bemoans his fate will never succeed. We need more of daring, strength and will. When we say "He is not only a good man, but a man," we say a good deal, but we must also be able to say "He is a real sensible man," for in every man we need the saving grace of common sense.

If we fail in developing the qualities in our average citizenship we shall fail as a nation. And oh, my fellows, my countrymen, we are going to succeed. As a nation we are going to make this the greatest the sun has ever shone upon, because we are going to develop a sense of honesty and character to a degree hitherto unknown among the nations of the earth.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Kansas City, Missouri Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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