Remarks in Lewiston, Maine

August 26, 1902

Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow countrymen and women of this beautiful State:

In the first place, Mr. Mayor, let me in thanking all of you for your greeting, thank especially the Mayor, the official representative of the city, for the kindness with which he has spoken. Mr. Mayor, I can hardly imagine any man able to occupy the Presidency of this people and not feeling, with all his faults, that he was indeed the servant and the representative of the people, but if it were necessary to have such feeling words like yours would supply it.

My fellow citizens, coming here this afternoon I saw along the streets and here and there I see in the audience before me men who wear the button that shows that in the times that tried men's souls they proved their truth by their endeavor; they rose level to the nation's need. It always seems to me when I see such men that the lesson they taught by what they did during the war, and by the way in which when once the war was over they turned to the works of peace, is a lesson peculiarly applicable to us under the strain of the enormous and complex development of our industrial civilization.

Here in Maine you combine as in but few states both the old conditions and the new. In your country districts, on your beautiful farms, on the edges of the great northern forests, among your seafaring people on the coast, you have men leading substantially the lives, under substantially the conditions that obtained in the days of our forefathers who founded this Republic; and then, again, in industrial centers like this city of which, Mr. Mayor, you are the chief executive— in these centers we perceive the full play of the great forces which have brought about that marvelous material progress of which we are so proud, but which at the same time have brought us face to face with problems of wholly different type from those that we confronted in the simpler life.

These problems are very difficult. I might put it more strongly than that. It is impossible to devise anyone perfect solution, and one complete solution, for all the problems of our latter-day industrial civilization.

But there are certain elementary truths which we tend to forget, but which nevertheless, remain operative in the biggest city, in the most feverish industrial center, just as much as on any farm in the country side.

Fundamentally, through the qualities by which the success of the individual is attained, must the success of the nation be wrought, and these are the same qualities the showing of which made the foundation of this nation possible.

The man who fought in the Civil War, fought with different weapons from those carried by Washington's Continentals at Trenton and the Brandywine, through the dark days of Valley Forge, and at the ultimate triumph of Yorktown. And now, in the warfare of today the weapons have changed again, and the tactics have changed with them, but the man behind the gun has got to be of the same old stuff, or the best gun won't save him.

No improvement in firearms, no perfection of equipment, no change in tactics will avail unless back of them all lies the spirit that sent you and your fellows from '61 to '65, again and again against the Confederate lines; that sent you after defeat back again just as if you had won, and after defeat again back again, until from defeat you had wrenched the victory.

The great battleships of today would have seemed veritable nightmares to Howe and Perry in 1812 and '14, and as for the guns, why in those days,—in 1812, the commander of a small vessel could walk up and down the quarter-deck with an entire broadside of cartridges in one coat-tail pocket!

But we won so completely in '98 and with such little effort because we had men with the spirit of 1812, with the spirit of Farragut's fleet in the Civil War, back of the guns and the ships. It is the man behind the gun, the man in the engine room, the man in the conning-tower, these are they who fundamentally govern. Of course you have got to have the weapons, but you can't win with bows and arrows.

But it is no matter how good the weapons are which you have, you must have good men to use them.

And more than that, it is not only courage that counts, it is thoroughness in training. That made a big difference between Bull Run and Gettysburg. Now in our Navy and our Army if we ever have to face a foreign foe, we want to train in advance, so that Gettysburg may come without Bull Run, and there must be preparedness in advance. This is why we want to keep our fleet trained and practiced.

Anyone of you who sees a great modern warship must realize that no one can learn and be trained to handle that trade in a week, any more than the ordinary unskilled laborer could learn to become a skilled machinist or a watch manufacturer in the same length of time. Put men who mean well but who do not know, on a good ship and send them against a competent foe and you invite not merely disaster but a good deal worse—disgrace. Have the men trained in advance months and years in advance. That is how the victory comes.

At Manila and at Santiago there were plenty of brave men amongst the Spaniards but they didn't know how to shoot, and they didn't know how to keep their machinery in gear, and our men did because they had taken the time in advance, because they didn't expect off-hand, in one day, to solve the problem of carrying on the war. Month in and month out, year in and year out, the ship-wright, the officer, the enlisted man afloat and ashore, had done their several duties in making ready the great ships, in maneuvering with them at sea, in drilling the crews at target practice, until when the final day came we had men who could rise level to the demand upon them.

Now, my fellow citizens, the same thing is substantially true in our civil life. Exactly as back of the gun stands the man behind the gun, and more important, so behind legislation, behind the best that can be done by constitutions and by laws, must stand a high average of decent citizenship, if we are to get good results in this Republic. We need good laws, good constitutions, and upright and honest administration of the laws. We need all these, just as in the navy we need good ships and guns, but they are not enough. You have to have men honestly bent on doing the best that is in them under those laws in order to get the best results.

And, now, gentlemen, how about doing the best? Is it a work of special genius? Not a bit of it. In the army you developed two or three or half a dozen great geniuses. You had a Grant, a Sherman, a Sheridan, with a Farragut on the sea; but the great thing is that you developed the average American citizen who had gone into the ranks and developed himself into a first-class fighting man, and he was so developed by those over him, not through genius, but by doing well all of the small things that were to be done.

In any new regiment there is always a certain proportion of recruits who want to be heroes, but they don't want to go through the preliminaries—they don't want to dig out kitchen sinks. Sentry duty does not appeal to them; keeping the camp police is rather repulsive. They want to win a great battle without preparing for it. That sort of man doesn't make a hero. He doesn't even make an ordinarily good soldier.

Now, in our civic life, distrust the man who thinks that if some great emotional crisis came he would rise up and reform everything, but meanwhile doesn't want to do his ordinary common-place duty! This is a work-a-day world, and we can get along in it only if we show the work-a-day qualities. It is a very essential thing to be able to show the other qualities. It is a very fine thing. It is necessary for the nation that you shall have men eager to volunteer when some man like Cushing starts out to do a deed of daring, where death stares every man in the face, but before the Cushings can get their chance, there has got to be any amount of wearisome blockading, of standing on and off before the ports, of training the men until they can follow the Cushings.

And so in our civic life, we shall never have any healthy government in any community until the citizens of that community perform their own duties of citizenship,— not spasmodically or hysterically, but day by day, regularly, as they come up.

Duties of citizenship. Now, of course, the first business of citizen ship is that the man shall care for those dependent upon him; that the man shall be a good bread-winner; deal well by his wife and children; that the woman should be able to take care of the house and the children. I am of an archaic temperament, and I wish you all large families, by the way.

And in addition to being straight at home, each man has got to be straight with his neighbors, has got to be a decent man in his ordinary work, and if he is not decent at home, if he is not a faithful loyal man in whom you can trust in the ordinary business relations, in the factory, in the shop and on the farm; if he is not that, he is not going to be a good citizen.

But besides all that he has got to show certain other qualities. He has got to remember that in addition to his duties to those nearest to him, under our republican system of government he is not to be excused if he fails to do his duty to himself and his neighbors and to that representative of himself and his neighbors, the State, the government.

He does not need to have any unusual grace to make himself a good citizen in this way. He has got in the first place to be honest and decent. That first of all. No amount of smartness will avail to make up for these, the root of righteous living, of righteous dealing with his neighbors. Don't forget that. There is nothing I dislike more than hearing some scoundrel spoken of with admiration, as when someone says, "He is a smart fellow, but you can't depend on him." Distrust the man about whom that is said, and the man who says it.

You have got to be honest first. And that is not enough. In the Civil War you had to have patriotism first, but the patriotism was no good if the man wanted to run away. The honest man who is timid isn't of any use. With honesty you must have courage. Honesty and courage! And they are not enough. I do not care how brave and how honest the man is, if he is a natural born fool you can do nothing with him. You have to have honesty and courage and then add to them the saving grace of common sense. And you need it. You need the common sense in the management of the state just as much as you need it in the management of your own individual affairs.

The sum and substance of it all is, my fellow citizens, that while we have many, many problems before us, the greatest problem, the real problem, is the problem of keeping our average citizens good, upright, sensible and brave men and women.

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

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