Remarks in Lincoln, Nebraska

April 27, 1903

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

It is indeed a pleasure for me to come to the state of Nebraska and to its capital today, and in thanking all of you for your greeting, the rest I am sure will not mind my saying a special word of thanks to the men to whom we owe it that there is a United States or a President of it today. I come here now at the outset of the twentieth century, because from 1861 to 1865 you had it in you to be willing to give up life itself for the sake of the ideal of the government and of freedom. And it was natural enough that when in 1898 the little war came Nebraska should have sent her sons to the Philippines to show that the spirit that had burned in their sires' hearts was not extinguished yet. I greet you.

Let me say a word also to the representatives of the university.

I am glad to see you. My creed is a fairly simple one. I believe in play and I believe in work. Play hard while you play and when you work don't play, but work hard.

I also wish to say a word of special greeting to two other bodies. First to the National Guard. I wish to congratulate your city upon the admirable arrangements, and to say how I appreciate the Guard having turned out and the way in which they carried themselves, the ease with which they made it possible for this great audience to be reached. And now especially a word to the school children.

Coming through the state of Nebraska today I have rejoiced in your fertile soil; I rejoice in the crops you raise, and after all the best product of any soil is the product of the man and the woman. I was mighty glad to see your children. They seemed to be all right in quality and in quantity. I think you have a mighty good stock. I want to see it go on.

And now, my friends and fellow citizens, I have but a word to say to you. I wish to speak one word only upon government—good government. There is nothing peculiar or wonderful in getting a good government any more than there is anything peculiar or wonderful in a man's making a success in private life. The same qualities that make a man a good man in his family, a good husband and father, a good neighbor, a man with whom you like to work or to deal, those same qualities make him a good citizen, a good man in the state when applied in his relations to the state. We need honesty, we need courage, we need common sense. We need to show in civic life the same spirit that you showed in the Civil War in battle; what you cared to know about as to the man on your right hand or your left; was not the way in which he worshiped his Maker; not his social standing or wealth; you cared nothing whether he were farmer or mechanic, lawyer or business man, bricklayer or banker; what you wanted to know was whether he would do his duty like a man. This is what you cared for—whether he would stay "put" when the time came. It is the same thing in civil life now.

Any man that preaches anything that argues contrary, because he is less well off or less distinguished, shows a feeling that is a contemptible feeling for an American freeman to have. We can go, in this Republic, only on the theory of trying each man on his worth as a man, or guaranteeing him his rights and seeing that he does no wrong; that he wrongs no one and that he is protected in return in so far as he does right. The pride of our land is counted on because we enjoy liberty under the law, and it will go on prosperously just so long as capitalists and wage workers, the men of the farms and the men of the towns are all alike pursuing that spirit. If we allow envy, hatred, or anger to rule us; if we permit wrong to be done by any man against capitalists and wage workers, the men of the farms and the men of fail [sic in text] to protect him in them, by just so much are we coming short of the standard set for us by the men who in 1776 founded this nation and by the men who in the years from '61 to '65 preserved it.

Now anything that I say of that kind must necessarily be general in its nature; each community has its own special conditions to which the rule applies, but the principle of which I have spoken must be applied in each individual case according to that case's nature, under penalty of seeing partial failure at least. The principles of order, of law, and of liberty under and through the law, need to be actuated by a spirit of genuine brotherhood, the spirit which regards one's neighbors' interests as well as one's own, and which thinks it a shame to impugn the rights of anyone else. More than that, something can be done by the law; something can be done by the honest and fearless and wise administration of the law. But after all, in the last resort, we must depend upon the high average of our individual citizenship for success.

Uniform in battle is a good thing; a good rifle is a better thing. But if you have got a poor man with a good rifle, a good man with a poor rifle will beat him with a club. You have got to have the proper spirit in the man behind the law, in the average citizen, to get the proper results from the law. It is upon the average of our citizenship that we have to rely. More than that. We can do a good deal by combination among ourselves. Combination for business purposes, combination to help those who are wage-workers, always provided that each combination acts underhand in accordance with the law; always in accordance with law, can help us to help one another. There is not a man of us here who does not at times stumble, at times slip, at times need a helping hand. Shame to the brother who will not then extend the helping hand.

Help any man up, help him to try to walk, but if he lies down you cannot carry him. If he lies down and won't walk and you try to carry him it does not do you or him any good. You can help a man in that way by helping him to help himself. That is the only way in which in the end you can do a man real good.

Men and women of Nebraska, I congratulate you upon what I see in your great and beautiful state. I believe that whatever may be the temporary ebb and flow, on the whole, Nebraska will in the future share, even to war, her expected proportion of the prosperity that is sure to come in the end to a nation such as ours, composed of such people with a continent back of it.

I believe in it because I believe in the character of the men and women who make up the state here. I believe in it as I believe in the future of the United States, because I believe in the average citizenship of the United States.

It is a great thing to have the soil that you have got in this state, to have the crops that you have got. You need that as the foundation upon which to build, but the building itself depends upon the use that you make of the foundation. I congratulate you upon your households, upon your churches and upon what is done in your households. I congratulate you most of all because you are doing your best to keep up the average of citizenship here. But in making good citizens you need first of all honesty in its widest sense; the spirit of fair dealing as between man and man. The spirit that makes a man jealous of the rights of his neighbors as he is jealous of his own.

Now you of the great war. You won because each of you had it in you to care for something more than for himself; a care for the honor of the regiment, the honor of the flag and the honor of the nation more than even for his own life. So we will get good citizen ship only on condition that we have in us the power of adherence to the lofty idea and that is not enough. In the Civil War it didn't make any difference how patriotic a man was if he ran away. In addition to the love of country you had to have the courage that made you put that love of country into action. And so now I don't care how good a man, how virtuous, if he stays at home and does nothing, it don't count. The man that counts is the man, the honorable man, who has got the stuff in him to go out into the world, into the hurly burly of actual life and hold his own as a man among men. That is the man that counts.

You have got to have energy and courage, the qualities of virile manhood in addition to the qualities of honesty and decency. But that is not enough. I don't care how honest a man is and how brave he is, if he is a natural born fool you can do little with him. In addition to courage, in addition to honesty, you must have the saving grace of common sense. Shame on the man whose heart is hard. I want softness of heart, but I don't want it to be extended to the softness of the head.

Citizens, we don't need brilliancy or genius in citizenship. We need most of all the capacity which makes a man do well the ordinary things of life; we need the development of the ordinary qualities which we feel the average citizen should possess; the qualities that make a man and that make a good man; the qualities that make a man good in his family, good in his relations with his neighbors and a square and brave man in dealing with the state. The qualities that stand above physical strength, that stand above intellect, the qualities that go to make up what we call character. And in their essence those qualities can be divided into three, the quality of honesty, the quality of courage, and the quality of common sense. I thank you for coming here to greet me. It is a pleasure to see you here. I believe in you with all my heart. I believe in your future. I know you. I welcome you here today and I bid you Godspeed for the future.

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

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