Remarks in Keokuk, Iowa
Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens, my fellow Americans:
It is indeed a pleasure to have the chance of saying even a few words to you this morning here in the Gate City of Iowa. Yesterday I traveled through your great and beautiful state and oh ! my fellow citizens, how sincerely I congratulate you upon it. I congratulate you on such soil, such a climate, so well watered a country, a state, that tends itself to diversified industries so that while agriculture is the staple pursuit, yet, as for instance here in Keokuk, you are developing manufactories in a degree that would have seemed absolutely impossible even a couple of decades ago. It is a great thing to have such a soil, such physical material possibilities, but the greatest of all things is to have, as Iowa has, the men and women who can turn those possibilities to advantage. That is ultimately what counts most.
In thanking all of you for your greeting I know that the rest of you will not grudge me saying a special word of thanks and acknowledgment to those to whom the rest of us owe so much—to the men of the Grand Army of the Republic. To you, the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War to whom we owe the fact that there is a President to address you. The lesson that they teach us who have come after them is not merely a lesson for war, it is a lesson for peace; for great though your deeds were, friends and comrades, great though they were in the four years of the war, during which we settled it that we should have a country of which to be proud, if anything, even greater was the way in which, the war once done, you turned to the pursuits of peace and did your full duty as citizens again.
I passed the statue of General Curtis on the way up here "and took off my hat to it," and I felt that General Curtis in his life typified what you had done in war and in peace. When the appeal to arms came General Curtis, already a veteran of the Mexican war, turned in and rendered service which was literally priceless in campaign and battle; and the war once over, he did not confine himself to fighting it over and over again; then he took hold of the business of pushing across the continent the first great trans-continental line and did that in the same spirit in which he had marched to battle. The spirit that you showed in the war is the spirit we must show now in peace, if we want to win. One of the great things of the war was that you left us that right of kinship with and of feeling proud of, your gallant antagonists; and I never speak to a meeting of the Grand Army without the certainty of feeling that they will be more prompt than any other to respond to a statement as to the gallantry of our brethren who wore the gray. You left us the right of brotherhood with them, the right of brotherhood with all in this country and above all you taught us by your example what the spirit of brother hood really means. You won because out of the grinding need of war was developed the capacity of each man on his worth as a man; giving honor to whom honor is due; putting forward, not trying for motives of jealousy to throw him down because he was big, not trying to put him up except because he could do the job, treating him on his worth as a man.
You developed Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, Farragut, Foote, out of the army and navy by the simple process of refusing to consider aught but the man's fitness to do the job; and so in the work in the ranks, among the officers no less than among the enlisted men, you won because you went upon the basis of treating the man according to his individual worth. Each one of you as you marched, as you went into battle, was concerned much about your comrades. You needed to have them develop certain qualities, you were much interested in certain of their traits, but you were not a bit interested in the unessential ones. You did not care a snap of your finger as to the way in which the man on your right or the man on your left worshipped his Maker—as to his creed—you did not care as to his social position; as to whether he had means, or all his life long had earned his day's bread by the sweat of his brow; for that day, you did not care whether he was a mechanic or a farmer, a banker or a brick layer; what you wished to know was, when the time of trial came he would stay "put," that was what you wanted to know. That is exactly what you want to know in civil life.
We have not a problem so great and so terrible as the problem which you had to solve with all your strength; with all your courage; which you had to solve at the cost of crippling and the risk of death. But we have problems. The complexity of our industrial civilization has brought us face to face with them. We can solve them all right only if we approach them as you approached your great duty in the years from '61 to '65.
The details of application of the principles change, but the immutable laws of morality and decency and common sense do not change. We can solve all our problems, industrial, social, economic, political in the long run if we approach them in the spirit that recognizes certain fundamental truths, of which the most essential is a desire to do justice and to see that justice is done to each man, that each man has his rights, that no man wrongs another, and we take care to avoid two equally bad sets of vices. One is the vice of arrogance, the vice of brutal disregard for the rights of the weak, of arrogant looking down upon those who are less fortunate than we are, of arrogant disregard for those who have not the peculiar advantages of position or of intellect, the advantages of any kind that some have. We want to beware of the vices that from time immemorial have accompanied power, whether that power takes the form of wealth or takes any other shape, and, on the other hand, just as much do we need to guard ourselves against the equally base, equally mean vices of jealousy, hatred, rancor, towards those who are better off. The two sets of vices are complementary one to the other; in essence they are the same. The man who looks down and seeks to oppose the man of less means has at the bottom exactly the same soul as the man who hates and strives to pull down another man because he has been successful and the two are equally mean vices.
Mean jealousy and envy of those who are well off are just as contemptible and mean as base arrogance towards those who are not well off; and we are false to the principles of our government, false to the principles of the men who, with Washington, founded the nation, of the men who, under Lincoln and Grant, saved the nation, if we do not equally avoid each kind of vice.
Another lesson to be learned from you is that you taught the virtue of organization and yet the virtue of individual initiative. If you had remained a mob each man dealing with his own interest, you could not have accomplished anything. You had to have an organization, the training to develop the leadership, to develop the systematic plan of action, but you had each of you to do his part well or no organization could have helped you. You needed the organization and you needed good weapons, but I do not care how well you have been drilled, or how good the weapons have been, if you had not had the right stuff in you, you could not have gotten the right stuff out of you. The American soldier left so imperishable a monument because he had in him the fighting edge, because he was able to hold his own, because he had within his own breast what spurred him on to effort, what spurred him on to triumph. Each of you found that you needed help, that you could help others, but that it was not worth while helping certain men, because they would not take advantage of it when the help came. It is just the same in civil life. There is not one of us who does not stumble; there is not one of us who is not guilty of shortcomings. Each of us needs at times to have a helping hand stretched out to him or her, and shame to whoever refuses to stretch out the helping hand. Every man will slip and it is the duty of every man to help him on, to put him on his feet and help him to walk, but if he lies down you cannot carry him. We will win in solving the political and social problems of the day by showing the traits you and your comrades showed in the great war; the traits of capacity for organization and yet fullest recognition of the need of individual initiative, the fullest recognition of the fact that the prime factor in determining whether a man is a good citizen is exactly the same as the prime factor in determining whether he is a good soldier; the man's own individual character. We can win if we apply the lessons of the civil war to our own life nowadays. And, my fellow countrymen, when I come to Iowa I feel that I can learn rather than teach, because in peace and in war you men and women of Iowa have acted on exactly those principles. I thank you for greeting me today. It has been a pleasure and joy to see you. I wish you well and wish you prosperity in the future as you have so abundantly enjoyed it in the past.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Keokuk, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343434