Remarks in Laramie, Wyoming
Mr. Mayor, and you, my friends of the Grand Army of the Republic, men and women of Wyoming:
It is a great pleasure for me to address you upon this beautiful spring morning. I feel that I am not a stranger among you as I was engaged for 20 years in the cow-business in this State.
The people of the East express sympathy for you in Wyoming, but I do not, it is not sympathy I feel for you, but admiration. It pleases me to be able to address the people of this State from the steps of the State university building. Nothing delights me more about the west than the rapidity with which you have built up great institutions; have advanced towards your best ideals, and have made opportunities for leading a higher life.
I wish to say a few special words of greeting upon this Memorial Day to the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic.
We owe it to them that there is an America today, and we owe it to them that the President of the United States is able to travel in safety from one side of the continent to the other, from the hot waters of the Gulf to the snows of Canada.
Precept is a very good thing, but to my thinking an ounce of practical energy is worth any amount of precept without action, and the qualities which I admire most in the west are the qualities displayed by the Grand Army of the Republic, during the years from '61 to '65.
The graduates and undergraduates of this college will, if their turn comes, do as you did when Abraham Lincoln called.
The qualities displayed in that time of trouble by those who fought for their country were of two types, disinterestedness—in that they laid their personal welfare and personal advancement on one side when the call for their country's cause came; and responsibility, in that they felt that it was for the good of their fellow men that they lay aside their own good. These qualities are what is called patriotism or love of country.
In civil as in military life a man must have the spirit of disinterested ness; he must be himself a decent man first of all, or else no amount of strength or courage will have the power to make his life anything but an evil one. Loyalty he must have as well—loyalty to himself and to his associates—or else his strength, courage and skill will avail nothing to make his life a power for good. In fact, the greater his strength, the greater his skill, the more influence for evil he will exert. The foundation of every character, whether that of a man or of a nation, must be a spirit of decency.
The sum of every nation's character is made up of individual characters, and as the stream can rise no higher than its source it follows that the character of every single individual tends to raise or lower that of the nation. A man who does a wrongful act sins against the State as well as against himself.
A soldier upon a campaign needs, besides the qualities of disinterestedness and responsibility, some other qualities. You veterans know that it is the man who is willing to do more than his share of the disagreeable duties who makes the best fight when the time comes.
A man is no good if he runs away. The man that is needed is the man who will stay put. Courage and hardihood, the spirit capable of daring and of doing is what is needed in peace as well as in war. It is the doing of little things well that tends to lift towards loftier things. The performance of everyday duties makes a man able to use an occasion should the occasion come to him. If a soldier was willing to dig kitchen sinks if necessary, the fighting part would take care of itself. Do, day by day, the work that ought to be done upon that day and if occasion comes, you will be ready to grasp it. To but few of us comes the opportunity to do great things, but the opportunity did come to that generation which sent you to battle, men of the Grand Army.
One word to the graduates and undergraduates of this university; I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you. Remember that the greatness of this State depends upon how you play your part. You have received here, or are receiving here, from the State a training in practical affairs. That training gives you no special privileges, but on the contrary adds responsibility.
No man receives a favor but he is in honor bound to repay it or he is placed in an unpleasant position. So it is with you, the State has placed the responsibility upon you of giving her the service of a good citizen, and the State has the right to expect that return for the service it has rendered to you.
People of Wyoming, I believe in you and in your future. It was a great pleasure to me to assist in the passage of the National Irrigation law, which in its application will have an important bearing upon the future of your State. We have made a beginning, and hope to see that irrigation as an adjunct to stock raising will be a success.
The Government can only supplement, however, the work of the individual, and the work of the individual depends upon the character of the individual. Common sense is a most important part of the individual character and no amount of brilliancy can ever atone for the lack of it. Common sense must be applied in the application of the irrigation law as in all other things.
I am glad to have the pleasure of introducing to you a member of my cabinet, who has deeply at heart all that goes to help that most ancient and healthy of all occupations, the tilling of the soil. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Wilson.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Laramie, Wyoming Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343681